Acting Mayor taking Kamloops drug issue to UBCM

By Vanessa Ybarra
September 20, 2017 - 5:33pm Updated: September 20, 2017 - 6:08pm

KAMLOOPS — It's a problem that outreach workers in Kamloops say is only getting worse.

The city's lack of housing, combined with the ongoing opioid crisis has the Ask Wellness Centre facing greater pressure than ever before.

While the supervised injection site has helped ease drug overdoses in the city, health workers say the real solution is providing more affordable housing throughout the city.

It's an issue that's sure to be a hot topic at the UBCM meetings next week in Vancouver.

It's a crisis that Ask Wellness Executive Director Bob Hughes says has reached a critical level.

"We have this intersection of homelessness and addictions that I don't think we've ever faced," said Hughes.

Hughes says three years ago the scene outside the North Shore Ask Wellness was fairly safe and inviting.

Now, dozens of needles line the grounds each morning, the center and supervized injection site serving up to one-hundred people a day.

Hughes says the ongoing problem stems from lack of affordable housing.

"What we've seen is the same ongoing problem of a lack of housing for people," said Hughes. "When you become homeless one of the highest risks for you is you're going to have mental health issues that emerge that weren't there before."

Acting Mayor Arjun Singh says change is coming.

He's scheduled to speak with other municipal and provincial officals on the issue at next week's UBCM conference in Vancouver.

"We're meeting with both the Minister of Health and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to try and keep on working on a collaborative approach to all of these issues," said Singh.

Hughes says the city has dropped the ball in ensuring more affordable housing units are built throughout the city.

"You have to be able to adapt and you have to adapt to where the money's coming from and take political risks and I don't think that's been a high priority for the city," said Hughes. 

Singh says a large part of his discussions will be comparing and working out some of the issues such as zoning that have stopped low-income housing projects from breaking ground.

"Some of the land the city zones turned out to be challenging, B.C. Housing also changed some of their funding models, so these things happen," said Singh. "We have to understand from the new NDP government what their new priorities are and fit those into our new direction."

Hughes says Singh's visit may not stop the crisis plaguing the city but it's a good start.

"I can't applaud that more," said Hughes. "We have a long history in  our community to work with other sectors to make this a liveable and compassionate city but this crisis of homelessness and addictions that we're facing is ripping our community apart."


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