Letter: Understanding homelessness

It’s not so black and white

Penticton needs modular housing to help the homeless and I would like to remind everyone that not all homeless people have substance use disorders.

Elderly people with physical disabilities and people with mental health disorders would benefit from this modular housing as well. The City of Penticton was concerned that the modular housing would be too close to schools but right now we are seeing homeless people spread out all over the city and especially downtown.

There is no way to hide it from our children and being a parent, I question if we should. Our kids are smarter than we give them credit for and seeing homelessness is an opportunity to open up a conversation with our children about the causes.

For example, many children who ‘age out’ of foster care end up experiencing homelessness. We need to use our empathy to imagine what that person’s childhood looked like and if you don’t know, I encourage you to ask a foster child for a first-hand account.

A person can become homeless after losing their income from an accident or illness, especially if they have no family or support system to help them through trying times. People with mental health disorders are especially vulnerable when they don’t receive a diagnosis as they tend to ‘self-medicate’ with street drugs.

Regardless of the causes and reasons, our homeless count is higher than average and people are suffering. It is the duty of those who can help to help those who cannot help themselves. Having modular housing is going to give homeless people a place to stay, instead of living on the streets of downtown.

If we want to revitalize downtown, we need to find them a place to live. What is the difference between a downtown with older bricks or newer bricks when the bricks have nothing to do with residents and tourists avoiding downtown?

Lastly, I would like to point out that substance use disorders don’t just happen to people on the street. There are people suffering who wear suits and live in big houses, people with addictions to cocaine who work on the oil rigs in Alberta and live in the Okanagan and parents who drink in the closet or openly at home.

Children who have parents who suffer from substance use disorders (and yes, that means parents who drink often/every night or binge drink) are so much more likely to grow up and have a substance use addiction themselves.

It is not the homeless who are influencing our children to use drugs and drink, if anything, seeing that reality is a deterrent. It is their parents who have the biggest influence — a fact that can be found in any addictions textbook. The only difference is that they have a home to do it in. How many people with a substance use disorder had a home at one point? All of them.

I would encourage every person who has a substance use disorder, mental health disorder or disability (or knows someone who does) to explore in their own minds what it would take for them to become homeless and we might find it’s closer to us than we think.

Hopefully, if it should happen to you one day, there is a place for you to go and get help. I strongly support modular housing for the city of Penticton (and the jobs it creates). It is past time for a solution. If our politicians at city hall don’t move forward with it, they will not have my vote next time around.

Andrea Fossum

Penticton

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