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Minister slams council ‘attack’ on art gallery, overdose prevention site

‘Not the way to go about it’ – Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon

Campbell River City Council’s “attack” on the Campbell River Art Gallery (CRAG) and the Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) is not the way to resolve the community’s homelessness crisis, Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said in a press conference with provincial media Thursday, Oct. 12.

“Well, you know, first off, its Homeless Action Week where we recognize the nonprofit providers that are actually doing this very difficult work,” the minister said in response to media questions about council’s declaring the CRAG and Vancouver Island Mental Health Society (operators of the OPS) as “bad neighbours” because of their lack of action in dealing with unhoused around their property. “This is not easy work to go in and support people who are very vulnerable, who are struggling, and to have a city attack people because they’re trying to do their best to make sure people are housed is not the way you address this.”

Kahlon was speaking in Kelowna Oct. 12 where he announced an agreement with that city to help house homeless individuals. He also committed that the province would find 120 units for individuals experiencing homelessness.

City council is expected to pass measures that will remove permissive tax exemptions from the two community organizations at the Thursday, Oct. 12 general council meeting, inflicting a $10,000 financial hit on the CRAG, for example. The two organizations have been accused of being “bad neighbours” and the OPS has been called a “nuisance property” because they provide programming for the unhoused and are accused of having lenient attitudes towards unhoused people sheltering on their property. Threats have also been made to the organizations’ much more lucrative grants-in-aid, worth $80,000 in the case of the CRAG, the loss of which is likely to shut the gallery’s doors.

READ MORE: Art gallery tax exemption hit; called poor neighbour, detriment to downtown

Kahlon said he met with Campbell River officials at this year’s Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention and talked to them about acquiring more supportive housing.

“Which I said I would work with them to do that. But attacking people who are trying to be good neighbors and trying to address that challenge in the community is not the way to go about it,” the minister said. “Because in the end, Campbell River may get more supportive housing units, but they may not find any willing partners, to staff or to actually operate them, because they feel they’re being vilified for doing the work that they do. And so, you know, my recommendation to the Campbell River council, work with your partners who’re willing to be at the table, let’s find solutions. I know it’s not easy. I know people get frustrated and they’re tired and they want the problem just be solved. But the only way to address it is by working together.”

City council’s actions have resulted in a deluge of letters in support of the CRAG and VIMHS being included in the agenda for the Oct. 12 council meeting.

READ MORE: Art gallery call for support strikes a nerve amongst letter writers

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