Opinion: Homeless efforts move in right direction

Chronic homelessness not only harms the individual, it puts a disproportionate amount of pressure on finite community resources.

It didn’t take long for the City of Chilliwack to trumpet the findings of the most recent homeless survey presented to the Fraser Valley Regional District this week.

According to a press release issued the following day, the homeless rate in the city fell by 34 per cent over the past few years.

City officials have a right to be pleased.

Despite ongoing efforts by staff and community partners to address the issue, there remain continued complaints that nothing is being done.

Granted, the job is far from finished. And the 75-page report compiled by the Mennonite Central Committee offers specific strategies on how to build on past successes.

Specifically, it advocates the “Housing First” model. The approach is nothing new; it’s based on a strategy that dates back to the 1980s. It argues that safe, stable and secure accommodation is the first critical step to addressing the deeper issues of why people are on the street.

But it is just a first step. Equally critical is the need for aggressive and ongoing support to keep people from slipping back to the street.

Over the past several years Chilliwack has expanded the number of spaces available to those in need. Today, there are a total of 104 beds of varying description. They’re offered by groups like the Salvation Army, Ruth and Naomi’s Mission, Ann Davis Society and the Cyrus Centre.

They are not the only partners. The city, through its Chilliwack Healthier Community committee, is working with provincial agencies and local groups to bring caring and compassionate support to those in need.

The efforts stand in stark contrast to what has occurred in other cities. However for some, those gains are not enough. They choose to ignore what progress has made (addressing an issue that previously wasn’t even a municipal responsibility) by so many dedicated individuals in our community.

Of course, more can and should be done – not only because it’s right, but because it makes economic sense. (Chronic homelessness not only harms the individual, it puts a disproportionate amount of pressure on finite community resources.)

However, to suggest that nothing is being done – that the situation today is worse than it ever was – is simply not true.

The work will continue. But let’s  take a moment to acknowledge our successes.

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