City in crisis: Homelessness and drug use on the streets of Penticton
It’s pretty normal for the population of Penticton to skyrocket in the summer, not only with vacationers but also people living on the streets.
But this year, it’s already reached a whole new level and the situation is so bad, the city is classifying it as a crisis.
“It’s not just someone sleeping in a sleeping bag in the corner. It’s people setting up camp there with a needle sticking out of their arm,” Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said.
The city is receiving an overwhelming amount of e-mails, phone calls and social media complaints about how bad the situation is. Some residents went as far to say that they felt intimidated and didn’t feel safe or welcome in their own city, Jakubeit said.
“We are determined to try to make a difference and make an impact so people can see feel like they can take back our city and that we can all coexist,” Jakubeit said.
But that’s easier said than done. There are varying reasons why people are on the streets; many are struggling with addictions and mental health issues and there’s also a lack of affordable, low-barrier housing in Penticton for people who do have addictions.
“We were surprised. Almost 75 per cent of (homeless) people (in Penticton) reported they had mental health issues and addictions,” Ian Gerbrandt with 100 Homes said.
The group is tasked with helping some of the city’s most vulnerable find a place to call home.
“Sometimes it feels like you’re trying to fill a leaky bucket,” Gerbrandt said.
Jakubeit said the city can’t take the issue on alone, but is working to bring social agencies, the province and RCMP together to brainstorm solutions.
The RCMP is holding a town hall meeting on July 12. This is one of the issues expected to be on the agenda.
There’s still a lot more questions than answers including when change will actually happen on Penticton streets, but the mayor said “we are trying to deal with it in a timely manner. We are going to do whatever it takes to get an impact.”
After the town hall meeting in July, Jakubeit hopes to have a mental health symposium and to piece together a business case to the province and Interior Health, outlining exactly what Penticton needs to curb this crisis.
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