Nobody is perfect; this can be universally acknowledged as a fair and accurate assessment when it comes to the human condition.
The same can be said for the systems and organizations we create to manage ourselves as humans in this world. But with every mistake, comes an opportunity to learn how to do things better and meet the needs and values we claim to aim for when as a society we tackle issues.
For Canmore, now might be the right time to revisit some of the decisions in the past made by those tasked with the responsibility to deal with the Town’s current housing crisis.
Most will understand why we refer to Canmore’s housing situation as a crisis. There is a lack of available and affordable housing in this community and it is affecting people’s quality of life, their ability to find appropriate shelter and undermining the local economy because businesses can’t find and retain employees.
Last year, there were more conversations around the growing homeless population in Canmore because it became noticeable. For many years, our homelessness issue has been somewhat invisible, or easier to ignore. But as more and more people have adapted to survive and live in a community that does not have affordable rental accommodation it is now being noticed.
The public parking area behind Save-On-Foods and adjacent to Elevation Place is a popular location for those without a home
There are different reasons for why people choose to live the Vanlife – but it is clear that the parameters of success our society extolls of owning a single family home with a yard and a picket fence is utterly beyond the reach of many people in Canmore.
If two vacant lots of residential property can sell for $6 million, what chance do those earning less than six figures really have?
This is not a new problem – as a community we are experiencing a different expression of the exact same problem this community has been facing for the past 25 years. Even in the 90s, people were living in the woods.
Progress on this front has been made – the municipality developed an affordable housing model that meets the needs of the community perpetually into the future. It works for some, but not for all.
But options that could have made a difference in our current situation were pushed aside, or undone. Two examples come to mind: employee housing and Wapiti Tents Campground.
In the 90s, the prevailing opinion in the halls of the municipality was that commercial development didn’t have to be required to provide employee housing. That it should be left up to the market (or in other words developers and businesses) to determine if they should address this issue at the time of construction.
Fast forward to 2019 and the Land Use Bylaw rewrite has us considering this exact type of regulation – employee housing is being added as a requirement for new development. It may be too little too late, but at least it is something.
Then there is Wapiti Tents Campground, which was shut down by council in 2008 and handed over to a private contractor to run it as a campground for visitors.
But when Wapiti opened in the 1990s, it was the place the community was willing to provide to those who struggle to find housing that was safer than roughing it in the woods. It was a community. The conversion of Wapiti Tents from a resource for a community that has a lack of available and affordable housing options into a for-profit visitor campground was a mistake.
Regardless of why people are homeless, they are part of our community and the compassionate approach would be to support them.
Council voted this week to impose limited parking restrictions and create a new position at the municipality to work toward finding a better solution than the other two options considered: kick them all out, or let them stay without any restrictions.
But perhaps we already know the answer – bring back Wapiti Tents and provide a campground to support those who find themselves homeless in Canmore.