Opinion: A collective effort on homelessness needed

There is more work to be done on homelessness in Chilliwack, but to suggest the issue is being ignored is simply wrong.

There seems no shortage of armchair solutions to the problem of homelessness in Chilliwack.

Were it only that easy.

This week the City of Chilliwack announced another attempt to find an answer – this time marshaling local resources while tapping into the collective strength of the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

Critics quickly dismissed the effort, citing what they see as a litany of failed attempts and insincere tries.

In fact, Chilliwack has made significant gains in addressing the issue. Five years ago the 23 transitional units in the Chilliwack Health and Housing Centre didn’t exist. There were no transitional and emergency shelter beds (44 in total) at Ruth and Naomi’s. The 33 units at The Village on School Street had yet to be built. And the four emergency shelter beds for at risk youth at the Cyrus Centre were also only a dream.

In all, there are currently 142 transitional beds, as well as 22 emergency shelter beds in the city. There has also been an increase in options that provide greater affordability.

Is that enough?

Clearly not.

But to suggest no effort has been made to help people get off the streets is simply wrong.

The fact that there are people still living under bridges and sleeping in city parks illustrates the complexity of the issue.

Part of that complexity is sorting out responsibility.

Municipalities are not equipped, nor were they ever intended, to fund and provide complex social services for their residents. This has traditionally been the purview of other levels of government.

And yet, after the federal and provincial governments essentially abandoned the field, this is where cities like Chilliwack find themselves.

Unlike some communities, Chilliwack has stepped up to fill that gap. Private citizens, businesses and politicians have worked behind the scenes to find long-term solutions that will work within the limited parametres of a municipal mandate.

They understand more needs to be done.

But they also know it will take more than an unwanted couch dumped under a bridge, or pithy online comments, to fix the problem.

It will take a collective community effort – and pressure on higher levels of government to do their part.

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