Homelessness and how it has been dealt with in the past and how mayoral candidates would deal with it if they are elected was a key talking point at a candidates forum on Sept. 26 at the Penticton Lakeside Resort.
“I firmly believe in the Housing First model, we have a crisis in our community where things are bubbling over… We need to take our streets back from the criminals, but in order to do that we need to make sure we’re actually helping the truly homeless and the truly vulnerable,” said Jason Cox.
When pressed on what percentage of housing the city should pay for, Cox said he is a “fan of the Medicine Hat model.” The Albertan city also follows the Housing First model, which finds permanent housing, complemented by the provision of services to assist clients to sustain their housing and work towards recovery and reintegration into the community. He said this model eradicated homelessness in 2015 in that community.
“With their strong leadership with mayor and council, they’ve gone to their provincial government to lobby for the resources that they need for their made-in-town solution,” said Cox.
Candidate Jukka Laurio used one of his two challenges for the evening to also respond to the homelessness and housing issue.
“Even though housing is a really good idea, there is a direct statistical relationship between petty crime and unemployment. Penticton has an incredibly high employment rate, it always has,” said Laurio. “Putting people in houses ain’t going to help them much unless they have a job to pay for their home … I am personally against building free houses for anybody, I don’t like giving anything away.”
Candidate James Blake gave his unique perspective on the issue of homelessness.
“I was homeless when I was young and I managed to pull myself out of it — it’s not easy. I think it needs to be illegal to be homeless,” said Blake. “People that are homeless need to be put in facilities where until they are clean and sober and they have a shower and go for a job interview and really be on their feet, until that happens it’s very problematic.”
Blake mentioned that it costs the city more money “to keep those people on the street” due to hospital and emergency services costs.
Incumbent Andrew Jakubeit, pointed out that it’s a stereotype to assume all homeless people are addicted to drugs or have mental health issues.
“B.C. Housing has actually stepped up to the table, they fund about $17 million a year in Penticton for housing supplements. Those 200 housing units, that’s almost $40 million of capital investment that’s happening right now, opening this spring,” said Jakubeit. “The Medicine Hat model had a health unit, and that’s the last thing we’ve been trying to lobby.”
Things heated up at the forum when the subject of the city’s lawsuit against Paul Braun, the panhandler who plead guilty to bylaw charges right before the trial was to begin — costing the city upwards of $26,000 in legal fees. Jakubeit was asked if that is how he intends to help the homeless situation.
“With respect to Mr. Braun, it’s not targeting the individual, it’s targeting the inappropriate behaviour. If we can’t enforce our bylaws with a simple panhandling (case), how can we enforce it with other things.”
Candidate Dominic Wheeler also questioned the idea of taking people to court over bylaw issues.
“Mr. Jakubeit, I’d just like to ask if you are for implementing bylaws against everybody equally? I would wonder then why over the last three years when there is snowfall, there are so many businesses downtown that don’t clear their sidewalks and nothing is done about it?”
Candidate John Vassilaki also challenged the idea of city hall taking people to court.
“I do think that we need to find a better way to communicate with our best assets in this community, and those are our citizens. We have to learn to show respect for whatever it is, if they want to show their dislike for our government, we have to respect them and stop continuously suing folks that just haven’t had a chance to speak. They’ve lost their voice over the last four years,” said Vassilaki. “There’s been nothing happening but lawsuits by the present administration at city hall. We have to do something to change it, and start respecting our taxpayers.”
Cox added onto this point and said that there are many not-for-profits in the community that could have “done a lot of work with (the $26,000) to help Mr. Braun off of the street.” He said the plea deal did not solve the problem as now someone else is panhandling in the restricted area while Braun has moved a block over.
“Enforcing our bylaws is very important, but picking your battles is also important. What happened in this case, if you followed it closely is both sides were trenched, and both sides dug in and did not communicate well in the whole process,” said Cox. “What I do know is that $30,000 is what the lawyers cost, not what the bylaw cost, not what it cost to put environmental deterrents in place, not what it cost to put the kindness meter right in front of him.”
The candidates vying for a councillor position will be participating in a similar-styled forum hosted at the Penticton Lakeside Resort on Sept. 27. The participating mayoral candidates will face off again at the Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce’s “speed-dating style” campaign forum on Oct. 1 at the Sandman Hotel Okanagan Room.
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Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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