Fast action needed to fix Stuart Wood homeless-shelter issues

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
November 22, 2017 - 5:05am Updated: November 22, 2017 - 11:04am
Image Credit: Councillor Denis Walsh

KAMLOOPS — Sometimes good intentions aren’t enough to make an idea work the way it should.

Worries were expressed about using the Stuart Wood school gym for an interim winter shelter for the homeless before the doors opened three weeks ago — things like needles on the grounds, the fact that kids play there, and the pickup and drop-off of Beattie elementary students.

But those concerns were swept aside in the rush to open the shelter, with negligible public-input time to smooth out any wrinkles.

Now, that haste has come home to roost. Needles, feces on the grounds, kids getting on and off the school bus in the presence of police cars and ambulances.

And, yesterday, a drug overdose on the front steps of the school.

It isn’t just the location that’s the issue. The recent warm weather has had a part in it. So has poor planning.

Who’s going to clean up this mess, literally and otherwise?

Clearly, there have been too many cooks in the kitchen. The City, School District 73, the Canadian Mental Health Association, ASK Wellness, BC Housing, all have a responsibility to fix things.

The school district will obviously have to find another bus stop, but it’s fair to ask why the district wasn’t given time to do that before the shelter opened three weeks ago.

More supervision on the grounds is obviously needed. And while the “come one, come all” policy of inclusion is based on compassion, it’s a problem waiting to happen. Put 50 or so people with a mix of drug, alcohol and mental illness issues, and those just down on their luck, together in a relatively small space, and we shouldn’t be surprised when things start to go wrong.

Parents and the downtown business community need to be brought into the conversation, and not just with another open house. A town hall is in order.

Maybe this well-meaning project — which was touted as no-cost but which is proving to be a challenge for community resources — can be salvaged.

But something has to be done fast.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.