City council re-commits to backing homelessness advocacy groups

Advocates for the city’s homeless community — many of which have been camped out on the lawns of City hall for the past two weeks — got their chance to present to council this week and brought with them a petition signed by over 850 members of the community requesting the city do more to help.

Organizers with the Grassroots Kind Hearts Society (GKH) Krissandra Rufus and Dianne Palmer told council Monday night that they are happy the city has committed to making changes to the downtown core — such as the beautification and revitalization projects being undertaken — and they feel their goals align with that plan, as well.

“Our society helps those vulnerable members within the community that are visible in the downtown core that you hope to beautify,” Palmer said in her address to council.

Palmer then cited a 2013 report entitled “The State of Homelessness in Canada,” which assessed the cost of homelessness in Canada at $7 billion annually and called for the city to be proactive instead of reactive in its  approach to the problem.

“This estimate is based on the cost of reacting to homelessness instead of addressing the root causes of it and taking a proactive approach,” Palmer said. “Reactionary solutions are expensive and typically involve a greater use of emergency services such as law enforcement, courts and prisons, emergency healthcare, longer hospital stays, etc.”

Palmer said a proactive approach — which she says would be a far less expensive proposition than the reactive ones taken by most governments — would be the creation of a permanent facility within downtown Campbell River “that would allow for a place for us to serve hot meals, where the coffee is always on, and there is always a warm and dry place to sleep — one that in the future may involve sobering beds and other, like-minded organizations working together in an effort to provide what is needed to assist our friends and family living on the streets.”

The group had three specific requests for council: that council continue to pressure BC Housing into making temporary shelter beds available until such time as a permanent facility can be built, that a place be granted to the group near that temporary shelter location for them to continue to serve meals, and that council commit to working with the group to find a location for this proposed permanent facility.

Mayor Andy Adams responded by saying, on behalf of council, “I don’t think there is any question council will endeavour to comply with all of the requests you have just presented.”

BC Housing, Adams said, has committed to providing the community with six sobering assessment beds — a commitment for which he said he is very pleased — “but what we haven’t got confirmation on and are continuing to try to get the details of is when the request for proposals will be issued, when the call for that will close, what is the likelihood of who the successful proponent fort that call for proposals is and when that can actually happen.”

“I can assure you that council supports all the initiatives you’re talking about and much more,” Adams continued. “But I also want to confirm, as I have said previously, that council is limited to the models that we have been successful using in the past,” which is the city offering land, waiving development permit and licensing fees, hooking up services such as water, sewer and power. “However it is the provincial government who must come to the table with the funding to either purchase or construct a facility and provide the operating funds. That’s what we are going to continue to work for so that there is a long-term, permanent solution.”