City councillors were split recently on whether or not to give money to the Strathcona Regional District for a plan aimed at addressing factors that contribute to homelessness.
The request was for $20,000 towards the development of a regional housing affordability and availability plan.
The request came in the form of a letter from regional district board Chair John MacDonald, which didn’t sit right with some on council.
Coun. Charlie Cornfield and Coun. Colleen Evans said they would have liked to see the request handled differently.
“I have concerns about how this process has unfolded, this is a regional initiative,” Evans said. “We’ve been talking through the Community Health Network on numerous occasions on how it needs to be a regional approach to this issue. It should have come from the regional district as a funding request. This initiative has to be seen as something that is a community collective initiative.
“This just feels like it’s circumvented a process we have in place to reach out to the community, to reach out to the non-profit organizations that are trying to address this issue,” Evans added.
Cornfield said while he believes there is merit to having a regional housing affordability and availability plan, that Campbell River shouldn’t be the only regional district member contributing.
“It is a regional district we’re trying to build and a regional district that functions well together and that means everybody should participate in a regional study,” Cornfield said. “It affects everyone, not just availability here, it is availability in places like Gold River and Zeballos and the electoral areas.”
Coun. Michele Babchuk, however, said that in speaking with the regional district’s CAO Dave Leitch, that Campbell River is not being singled out for funding.
“The intention is that everyone is going to get letters and they’ll be going out (to other community councils) shortly,” Babchuk said.
Libby King, coordinator of the Community Health Network, told the Strathcona Regional District Board in August that $30,000 for the housing plan would be funded through a Community Wellness Grant from Island Health but the rest would be made up by potential partners.
“The City of Campbell River is the only municipal partner we’ve put in a request to but it is a matter of time,” King said. “We plan to talk to the other partners but it should not be seen in any way as the only organization we’ll be seeking funds from.”
Coun. Larry Samson, though, questioned why the funding couldn’t come from the Community Health Network, which is working to create the housing plan to try and address the region’s housing crisis. The network is comprised of three permanent members – the Strathcona Regional District, First Nations Health Council and Island Health as well as representatives from the Laichwiltach Family Life Society, North Island Employment, City of Campbell River, KDC Health, Success by 6 and Greenways Land Trust.
Coun. Ron Kerr, who sits on the health network board, confirmed that it intends to approach all of the municipalities and electoral areas within the regional district for funding. Kerr said he believes the housing plan is necessary because it will provide the city with the data needed to seek funding from senior levels of government to address homelessness and the housing shortage.
“We heard from the ministers in Vancouver at UBCM (Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention) that this is the data we need,” Kerr said. “The funding’s coming for these programs, we just need to have the data to tell them what we need.”
Mayor Andy Adams said that although it seems like a big ask from the City of Campbell River, that it’s a worthwhile expense.
“We are the largest player in the regional district and have the majority of the issues and I think it’s incumbent upon us to stick with what is in our council’s strategic priorities and that is catering to our most vulnerable,” he said.
In the end, it was a close vote, with councillors Babchuk, Kerr and Marlene Wright voting for funding the housing plan while councillors Cornfield, Evans and Samson were opposed. Mayor Adams had to break the deadlock and voted in favour of providing the $20,000 to the Community Health Network.