While smaller communities like Invermere and Radium don’t see much homelessness, it’s there, lurking in the shadows away from prying eyes. A foot sticking out from under a tarp, a makeshift tent flapping in the wind, a shopping cart overflowing with household items. 

Every town seems to have a homeless person living on the street (under a bridge), getting by on the generosity of others or on sheer survivor, dog-eat-dog instinct. 

It has become a huge problem in many larger centres in B.C. In Penticton, for example, homelessness has exploded to the point where you see carts turned into rail cars on nearly every other corner. In Kelowna, it can be risky walking down certain streets, even in daylight where some homeless are known to accost the innocent. 

Last week in Penticton a homeless person with a couple of overloaded buggies was observed trying to get warm in front of a portable heater attached to a propane tank. A harsh reminder that old man winter is coming and will show no mercy to anyone. 

There was one dear lady in Oliver who lived on the street a few years ago. Her name was Crystal Clear and she was a staunch advocate for the homeless, but nobody took her seriously. Her raspy voice echoed throughout town as she and her buddies preached from their favourite drinking bench in Triangle Park. Crystal later died, mostly alone, but her memory lives on for those who loved her for speaking up for the less fortunate.

More homeless encampments seem to be popping up in our cities and rural areas, and really, you can’t blame these people for doing what they can to survive. Bylaw enforcement officers have the tough job of breaking up these camps and moving the squatters along . . . to another makeshift shelter down the road. The problem is many of these encampments become eyesores and a hazard to the community when fires get out of control and threaten the lives of everyone. This is especially alarming in the backcountry where one careless act can cause a devastating wildfire to burn for months, just like we’ve seen this past summer.

The City of Penticton is commended for its “heart and hammer” approach to homelessness through its Community Safety Officer program, but more needs to be done by the province to address this growing problem. More regulated homeless shelters, especially in winter, are a priority. Perhaps clear some land in a central location (away from residential areas) to accommodate the homeless with enforced rules and regulations. While this may not be the answer, it’s at least doing something proactive instead of reacting when a problem rears its ugly head. 

 Lyonel Doherty, editor