BASS: Rather than count homeless, we should confront apathy

Virtually any code of ethics of any journalistic organization will include something that says reporters do not comment on the subjects they cover.

For example, the ethics guidelines of the Canadian Association of Journalists, for which I am chair, includes this: “We lose our credibility as fair observers if we write opinion pieces about subjects we also cover as reporters.”

That means, for example, court reporters don’t write columns on the legal system and city hall reporters don’t file columns on municipal government.

I point this out because this column is on a news article I wrote this week due to the absence of our news reporter and the need for the story to be covered.

It’s the scourge of a newsroom with a small staff; sometimes it just happens.

Ordinarily, I do not cover homelessness.

I did that once, a decade ago, in a series of articles for KTW, but have left it to other reporters since then.

Writing the story on the recent homeless count in Kamloops was frustrating.

As I told Homeless Action Plan (HAP) co-ordinator Tangie Genshorek at the start of the interview, the annual count is now irrelevant.

She knew that — we’ve had this conversation many times — but, as a reporter, it was appropriate to remind her of my bias.

Hence this column.

It is time to end the annual street- and shelter-wandering event.

As Genshorek said, when it was first done, it was as much to start a conversation on homelessness as it was to find out how many people live in that state in our city.

That was seven years ago and, since then, every year except 2011 has shown there are about 100 homeless people the volunteers can find.

It’s never a true number, but a best-guess snapshot only.

Research, experience and other criteria esablished by agencies dictate that, to find the hidden homeless, you essentially triple the number of those counted.

Mayor Peter Milobar has suggested, as has Genshorek, that to truly obtain a provincial view of the numbers of largely transient folks, homeless counts throughout B.C. should be done on the same day.

They both said they plan to lobby for that change.

They both said they also think the counts perhaps don’t need to be done annually.

We know there are homeless people in Kamloops — lots of them.

That baseline has been established.

Rather then spending money and manpower reinventing the wheel, as my mother would say, let’s acknowledge there is a baseline, an understanding of the size of the issue.

And, let’s also accept that, despite everything that’s been done in the past years — more transitional housing, more shelter space, new programs, more affordable housing — it hasn’t been enough.

Let’s skip the annual report to the community HAP must do.

If you ever go to one, you’ll know it’s just telling the people who already know and care what they already know and care about.

The series of articles in 2002 generated an overwhelming outpouring of donations, to the point the back area of our building was starting to look like a warehouse of clothes, sleeping bags and blankets.

A recent poll in KTW asked if Kamloopsians have or plan to do anything to help the homeless.

More than three-quarters who responded said no.

That is stunning — and appalling.

It is shameful.

And, that fact is what HAP and the other social agencies should be addressing, rather than doing counts.

The solution?

I wish I knew.

But it’s not spending hours and who knows how much money planning to do a count that really doesn’t ever change much and isn’t remotely accurate.

Dale Bass is a reporter with Kamloops This Week. Her email address is here. Her blog can be found here.


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