Although homelessness falls under the provincial government’s jurisdition, there are means and methods by which municipal governments can help or hinder the situation.
On Monday night at the Mirror’s all-candidates forum at the Tidemark Theatre, we had the candidates address what they see as the city’s role in the issue.
The question read as follows: What would you like to see the city do to help alleviate Campbell River’s homelessness issue?
“I wish there was something I could do to make that happen,” says Ron Kerr, adding that he is happy that facilities he has long advocated for, like the Sobering Assessment Centre – which has now been operating for a year – the Downtown Safety Office and temporary cold weather shelters do some good, there is more that needs doing.
“I’m totally committed and our council is totally committed to working with senior governments to alleviate homelessness in this community,” Kerr says.
Marlene Wright says that because Campbell River is the hub of social services for the region, it attracts members of society from all across the North Island who need to access those services. The city, therefore, needs to get more funding out of the provincial government so those services can succeed in their goals. She also feels there are not enough services specifically targeted to young men, saying 68 per cent of the homeless people are men under the age of 39.
“There’s something in our society that we need to deal with here,” Wright says, “and we need to get an agency that is going to look after our young men.”
Michele Babchuk says she sees the city’s main role as getting more housing units into the market to help increase the supply side of the supply/demand ratio, which is currently happening, but will take time.
“We are also partnering with Habitat for Humanity and the Head Injury Society,” Babchuk points out, two organizations that are also creating affordable housing solutions within the community right now, “but the other piece that we’ve identified as a council and is a missing piece: supportive housing for people who might just not be able to make it on their own. We need to get away from this idea that we’re going to be able to transition them all the way through and eventually they will be self-sustaining, because a lot of people won’t get to that stage, and if they do, they just get kicked down the road and end up back at the beginning of the line again.”
Allan Buxton says he thinks the Downtown Safety Office “is a good start,” but says “a lot more needs to be done.”
“We have so many partners out there in the community, so many organizations that are working day to day, hour to hour to help our homeless here, and they’re doing an amazing job of doing it,” he says, but adds more needs to be done to support those organizations so they can keep doing that work.
Charlie Cornfield says that the issue isn’t the city’s legislated or mandated problem to solve.
“It is, however, a moral obligation,” he says. “I find it very disturbing that in a country – in a city – as rich as ours, there are people that are forced to live under those conditions,” adding that all levels of government and service organizations need to work together to make a difference.
“City council has been working with BC Housing, we’ve been working with every single agency to get them on board, we are working at a regional level to bring others on board,” Cornfield says. “We also need to bring on our First Nations, community groups and individuals. Nobody should have to live in those conditions. We need to do a better job and it’s going to take all of us.”
Kermit Dahl agrees with Cornfield, saying, “I belive that none of us are as smart as all of us, so if we could get everybody together we could come up with a plan that gradually helps alleviate these problems we’ve got. Having a presense downtown (with the Downtown Safety Office) has made a difference for sure, but I’m not sure it’s made a big difference for the people living next door.”
Colleen Evans says it starts by changing our mindset around who these people are, saying we need to look at those most vulnerable in our society with empathy.
“And I think you’ve heard it from other speakers tonight that we can’t do it alone. It needs to be a collaboration,” Evans says, giving praise to those organizations working towards this goal in our community. Evans also echoed Babchuk’s assessment that while more housing is important, the lack of supportive housing is a significant gap in the community’s service offerings.
You can watch Monday night’s forum in its entirety on the Mirror’s Facebook page at facebook.com/campbellrivermirror