REDUCING HOMELESSNESS in Langley City
I’m going to apologize up front. Some of what I’m going to share with you is going to sound critical or judgemental against the city. My comments are not directed towards any single individual but policies adopted and employed by the city towards the individuals experiencing homelessness.
Homelessness IS a social crisis that is affecting EVERY community in Canada today.
300-500 people in the Langley area are currently experiencing homelessness - that is approximately .2-.3% of the combined population of the Langley’s - with Langley City being more densely populated (approx 1%) with those experiencing homelessness than the Township simply because of the concentration of services, amenities and proximity of available resources.
When we think about what causes homelessness, we often think about mental illness, addiction, domestic violence, trauma experiences, job loss, and disabilities. Those are all accurate demographic characteristics of the homeless population. Many people who are homeless struggle with both mental illness and addiction, often using alcohol and/or drugs to self-medicate an undiagnosed or untreated mental illness. But all these factors describe not only the homeless population in Canada, but also the housed population. They describe all of us because they are all normal life crises.
In our own communities and in our own families, we all know people who are alcoholics. Who are on medication for mental health problems, like depression or a bipolar disorder. We may know people who’ve experienced domestic violence or other traumas. In the tough economy of the past few years, we’ve all known people who’ve lost their jobs. The difference between people who experience those challenges and become homeless and people who experience them and don’t lose their housing is simple: IT'S SUPPORT.
If we have a strong support system around us when something happens, then people who care about us intervene when they notice us drinking too much. They help us cover our rent or mortgage payment while we’re between jobs. They show up at the hospital when we get sick or hurt and they pick our kids up from school when we can’t get there ourselves.
People who are homeless are just as diverse as people who are not; the only commonality among them is a profound lack of support. Yes, they may have come from a background of family support and lost it because mental illness and/or substance abuse damaged their relationships. Most often, they never had that support to begin with. It is a complex issue - the contributing factors are so diverse - but the root cause is often the same - lack of support.
The consequence becomes a BIG issue for any community. While the actual numbers of individuals affected by not having a home seem relatively small - the IMPACT on us has HUGE ramifications is getting worse and will continue to do so. This is where we find ourselves today. The ripple effect cannot be ignored, swept under the rug or down the street anymore.
HOMELESSNESS impacts all of us - whether or not we are experiencing it ourselves. It affects Langley City’s economy, our tourism, it affects our social costs, our taxes ( policing costs are approx. 50% of Langley City’s budget) how safe we feel in our communities, the city’s appearance, maybe even the route you take when you walk to work.
I’ve knocked on several hundreds doors over the last couple of weeks - Individuals and businesses. If HOMELESSNESS is NOT FIRST concern expressed - ITS THE SECOND. People are deeply concerned, frustrated but compassionate and want to see real progress in reducing homelessness but feel powerless to affect change.
I SHARE those same concerns too - is some of what has moved me to run for council.
The city's chosen approach regarding the homeless must change. It’s stagnant, ineffective and punitive and as a result Langley City has been spinning its wheels longer and harder than any hot rod you’ll find on a Friday night at the Cruise-In.
They have invested a lot of resources - on round table discussions and the development of strategies (2008, 2016) which get assembled and collected into binders - and put on the City’s website. I and others have been apart of some of those meetings - so I speak from personal experience. But there has been little action, less progress and things continue to get worse for the individuals and for the city as a whole.
Instead - the City continues to put energy into bullying and penalizing organizations such as Kimz Angels or faith organizations who are seeking to alleviate and work to make a difference for the individuals and ultimately the city.
A few examples :
I was personally fined several hundred dollars for handing out sandwiches off the back of my pickup. By-laws fined me for “operating a food truck” without a license and along with other exaggerated charges. See the attached tickets.
The city has persisted in its position to not allow any other extreme weather shelters to operate within the city- satisfied with the only permitted area zoned for this with the Gateway of Hope. Fortunately this past Christmas season Langley School District, Douglas Park School, Langley Township and Christ Covenant Church came through and permitted me to operate the only 24 hour extreme weather shelters in BC for 2 ½ weeks. The community’s outpouring of support through food donations, clothing and encouragement was incredible - which reflected the heart of the community and people's desire to make a difference.
In 2018 - The city having closed public washrooms leaving the homeless to seek relief through the kindness and generosity of local businesses - or to defecate behind garbage bins and in alleyways. More public washrooms are necessary with the increasing numbers of those homeless in Langley City.
As a church we offered to place, pay and provide maintenance for a porta potty on our property but was told there was no way that would be permitted. Two months later Langley City had their claim to fame when a feces throwing incident at Tim Horton’s went viral - across the world because an individual with mental health issues experiencing homelessness was pushed to the brink through a policy that was dehumanizing.
This is not the kind of responsible municipal leadership I expect from our Municipal leaders - which is one of the reasons I’m running.
THINGS NEED TO CHANGE. WE NEED A DIFFERENT APPROACH - one that is open, informed, and committed to make a lasting sustainable difference.
The plan is constructed on two simple beliefs.
The FIRST is that homelessness is a community-wide problem and therefore requires a community-wide solution.
No single entity is responsible for or capable of solving the problem alone, but instead, the entire community must work together to get the job done. The City MUST lead in this capacity. By facilitating, utilizing and collaborating with service providers, case workers, counselors, community organizations, the faith community and all levels of government we can develop a comprehensive local strategy that will be progressive and effective.
The SECOND is that housing ends homelessness.
There needs to be a range of creative permanent affordable housing options - developed through community, developer and government partnerships. There needs to be inclusionary zoning from the city to accommodate these options which even today they have not made allowance for in the "Official Community Plan"
Once housed there is of course the ongoing supportive services like substance abuse treatment, mental health care, and employment coaching that will help them stabilize and maintain their housing long-term.
There are working examples of this in the Township right now - “Creek Stone Place” located behind Home Depot (now about 4 years old ) and more recently and still in progress the old “Canada’s Best Value Inn” on Glover Rd.
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or want to connect and talk. I’d appreciate hearing more of what you have to say on REDUCING HOMELESSNESS in Langley City!