The RCMP and Kelowna’s vulnerable population all feel trapped in a cycle of arrests and releases.
Todd (last name omitted for privacy), was recently released from prison directly to the streets of Kelowna. He is a resident of ‘Tent City’, a popular homeless encampment located on the Rail Trail.
Todd, and some of his friends, spoke to a Capital News reporter at their camp in Tent City.
He explained that without a permanent residence, when released from incarceration, convicts are given the option of staying in a shelter, which is not an attractive option, said Todd, or are given a tent and brought to the encampment.
He said that people are typically given a few hundred dollars to get started, but that the money is often robbed or spent within the first day.
“They say ‘Here’s a hundred bucks and here’s the street’,” said Cracker (real name omitted for privacy), a resident of the encampment who was formerly incarcerated. “You don’t get a house.”
“When you’re released you think ‘OK, now I can start on the right foot… But actually you’re on the left foot,” said Todd.
Todd said that it would be best if the money was used directly for housing, not given out to individuals upon release. He also said that it would be helpful if housing was set up before the day of release.
He explained that most people experiencing homelessness do not have government-issued identification which is an issue when trying to find a place to rent, not to mention the high price of rent in Kelowna.
Housing and support programs are available, but they are hard to access or are complicated to sort out, especially without a phone, said Cracker. He said that there are a lot of hoops to jump through to find housing.
“It hurts being stuck or trapped in this position,” said Todd.
Cracker explained that unless you have the time to organize storage for all of your belongings, everything is long gone by the time you’re released from prison.
“Everytime you get out, it’s like starting over,” said Cracker.
Todd said that people want to provide for themselves but being homeless is like a full time job. You have to be diligent in protecting your belongings and are always on the move, having to change location in accordance with the bylaw.
With a criminal record, no permanent address, and no I.D., finding work is a challenge, said Todd.
“You get stuck in a revolving door,” said Todd.
Della-Paolera said that Kelowna officers go “numb” to the continuous cycle of crime and suffering people get caught in.
He explained that many repeat offenders struggle with substance use disorders and the RCMP would like to help get them off the streets, but the resources simply aren’t there. Most people are released right back onto the streets without having the opportunity to receive help and counselling for substance use and mental health concerns.