New funding from the provincial and federal governments is intended to help Chilliwack's homeless population access services. (Black Press file photo)

COUNCIL: Group 1 candidates address homelessness downtown and associated inappropriate behaviour

Group 1 candidates provide their views on the issues

The Mirror is asking the candidates to answer three questions on key issues. Question No. 1 is…

1. What should the city do to deal with people living on the streets in downtown Campbell River and the associated inappropriate behaviour?

GROUP 1 OF CANDIDATES (GROUP 2 available at this link)

Ken Blackburn…

No doubt this is a complex challenge for our community, as it is for communities across the country. We need to listen to the various agencies and individuals who work on the front lines of the challenges – poverty issues, lack of affordable housing options, addictions, a range of mental health conditions, echoes of Residential school trauma, domestic violence – to understand how individuals find themselves in an unhoused state. Every story is unique and requires compassion and empathy. NO ONE grows up with a desire to find themselves on the street.

Inappropriate behaviour is an outcome of this complex set of relationships. Criminal activity is actually a very small percentage of the unhoused population. By far most unhoused individuals are working to improve their situation and need assistance in small incremental manners to gain positive momentum in their lives. But mental health challenges or addictions can sometimes be too severe for certain individuals and they require more extensive interventions, with the assistance of institutions, longer-term programs or the justice system. We cannot just label all unhoused individuals the same. We need to separate out what challenges are unique to each person.

First and foremost we MUST address the issues in PARTNERSHIP, understanding that no one sector of the community, whether it be private business, social services, cultural institutions, housing authorities, mental health experts, planners, developers – can solve this challenge on their own. ALL must work together to listen to the front lines, explore alternatives and coordinate efforts to work toward targeted solution based practices.

City Council can play a lead role in fostering creative teamwork efforts. We need to foster stronger personal connections with the provincial and federal institutions that are our partners. We need to understand the government processes and investments (ie grants) that are available for change.

The fire department and police force need increased community support from the social sector. Robust intervention strategies to deal with crisis situations need our attention. And we also need to pay attention to the positive programs currently working within the city through our cultural organizations. Their front-line observations offer us pathways toward new positive outcomes.

I am very interested in the work being done in the country around rehabilitation/recovery farms and skill building programs. The Lakeview site north of Campbell River would be an ideal location for such a recovery farm site. Notably with addiction, removing individuals from the environment of triggers and toxic social influences provides an opportunity for change within an individual. New ‘micro-programs’ that provide employment and positive momentum in personal self-esteem, confidence and skill development are needed.

We also must remember to establish strong communication with the other communities in the North Island to explore programs that deal with the source issues that cause some individuals to leave their home communities.

But no solution can emerge without us all ‘paddling together’ – a teaching we are wise to listen to from our First Nations communities.

Mike Davies…

This is a complex problem with many factors contributing to it, and as such, there isn’t a simple answer.

What I do know is that the current way of “dealing with” this issue isn’t working. It seems like the answer from the current and past city councils is to try to make these people’s already-difficult lives more uncomfortable in the hopes that they’ll simply move on to somewhere else – whether that’s elsewhere in the community or out of the community altogether.

And they’re spending your tax money to come up with ways to do that, and then spending more of it to implement those ideas. That’s right. Your tax money is being spent to make some members of your community’s lives more difficult than they already are.

Many of these folks are struggling with mental health or addiction issues – often both – that are likely rooted in trauma of some kind. But where are the services that can help them with these struggles?

Some people might point to “jurisdiction” and say that healthcare is a provincial mandate. While this is true, there are things that the city can do at the municipal level to help the province in this regard. Is there enough property in our community zoned for things like mental health services and other forms of healthcare providers?

No.

Can we find property within our city that could be used for such a purpose?

Yes.

But do we have enough housing that is affordable enough for the people who can provide these services to actually live here so we can bring more people into this community who have the skills to help?

We sure don’t.

This issue can’t be addressed by simply “policing” more or “moving them along,” and it can’t even be addressed by just putting up more housing units or temporary shelters for them to sleep in – although having them housed would go a long way to be able to help them begin to address their other struggles.

These are human beings with just as much right to exist in this world as you or I do.

But they need help, and they need a city council that actually wants to help them, not drive them away into the shadows or on to another community.

If someone has a disease that is eating them from the inside out, and one of the symptoms of that disease is a rash on their arm, no competent doctor wouldn’t give them a lotion to apply to their rash and send them out the door.

That’s what “move them somewhere else” or “get them a place to sleep” is. It’s the equivalent of applying a lotion to a symptom instead of treating the actual disease. Yes, a lotion could sooth some of their pain, but what’s causing the rash is still eating them up inside.

I’m not going to claim to know the answers to these complicated questions, but I do know that I want to be part of a City Council that will listen to people and organizations that have ideas, consider options based on what other communities are doing that is working, and work with other levels of government and service providers to develop solutions in a collaborative way rather than pointing fingers and assigning blame.

Gwen Donaldson…

This is a very complex policy problem, that communities across our nation are facing. There is no quick, municipal fix to this community concern. But, there are a number of things that we could try that could make things better for our entire community.

1) We will need to work with local, provincial, and federal partners to get people better connected to the resources they need, which could include accessing existing programs, inside and outside of our community, or advocating for new ones, inside and outside of our community.

2) In relation, specifically to substance use, the Canadian government, and many other Nations, use a four-pillar approach to address the harms of substance use. The pillars are Prevention, Treatment, Harm Reduction, and Enforcement. We need to apply, work with partners, and advocate for programs and strategies that come from all four of these pillars.

3) We can work with our bylaw department, RCMP, and security companies to make sure that all enforcement-oriented approaches are suitable, appropriately resourced, and meet the needs of everyone, including the officers who are doing the work, the businesses, the people who are unhoused, and the community at large

4) We could also work with the community and business partners, to re-design the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and the Downtown Façade Improvement programs. Currently, both programs are highly under-utilized, and not working as intended. We could also provide tangible support to affected businesses for clean-up.

5) People who are unhoused need affordable and accessible housing that meets their needs. Many of them also have other complex care concerns that need to be addressed within the medical system. We need to advocate for the right treatment, at the right time, for folks. And we need to make housing more accessible and diverse across our community, inclusive of secondary suites, carriage houses, and different types of strata and supportive developments.

6) We have had a lot of success with work and capacity-building programs, such as “get the point”. I would love to see a more advanced space for people to go to access graduated and low-barrier work opportunities. In the lower mainland, EMBERS and Coast Mental Health have working models for this type of employment programming. People can succeed when they are given the tools, connections, and support, to do so.

7) We could work to better activate our downtown core, by allowing food trucks, sidewalk patios, public art, and more public events to occur and expand. Downtown Activation and creative placemaking are a big part of how local governments can make all community spaces better, safer, and more welcoming for everyone.

This is a complex socio-economic situation, and there is no “one-size fits all” solution. It will take cooperation, creativity, optimism, and a whole lot of partners, to make our downtown better and safer for everyone. But I believe we can if we all work together.

Colleen Evans…

Increasingly, the issues we face on this are part of complex systems with complex solutions that require us to work together with citizen’s organizations and businesses across our community. Housing must be part of the solution and integrated into land use and planning. The city, through a partnership with BC Housing, has enabled a 50-unit supportive housing facility and a 20-unit bridge to housing facility but the need for housing is not adequate to meet demand and the services provided are not at levels to address multi-barrier and complex needs.

We continue to experience increasing levels of public disorder due to addictions, mental health and the community impacts of unhoused individuals in our community. More facilities for transitional housing and recovery services are required. We are actively advocating for the province to provide funding for stabilization and sobering and assessment beds for complex care. In-house care facilities are necessary to help address some of the needs of individuals that are responsible for a significant portion of our emergency response call and disorder in the downtown core. This type of facility will also help to relieve the significant draw that complex care has on our local health system. Prosecuting criminal behavior and prolific offenders needs to continue.

Through a partnership with the Strathcona Regional District the city applied for and received grant funding through the Strengthening Communities Service Program that has added over $1.4 million of additional resources to address unhoused and those at risk of homelessness. In addition to health supports and food security, it includes an expansion of the safety and security program that is managed through the Downtown Campbell River Business Improvement Association for increased bylaw and safety officers beyond downtown in the Campbellton area. These opportunities to jointly apply for new grant funding to support community safety, resilience and address homelessness are in place and should be proactively pursued. We need more than the current temporary funding for day services for the unhoused offering food, hygiene and counseling support services for people experiencing or at risk of homeless. The programs that were established in the fall of 2020 by local nonprofit organizations are being well utilized and meeting a need. However, their establishment on the main street in the city’s downtown core is something that our community is looking at in terms of location and a community-wide safety program that will take into consideration the location and gaps in services not yet being provided is underway. Compassion, fact based evidence and informed decision-making with a desire to see unhoused and those at risk of being unhoused is absolutely required to support this transition. To fund this will require additional provincial funding and advocacy is active and ongoing to support this.

Many issues involving public disorder do not require the services of a fully equipped RCMP officer but they do require the services of law enforcement official who has more authority than a bylaw enforcement officer. We should purse programs that would fill the gap between an RCMP officer and a bylaw enforcement officer.

Community members deserve to live in a safe place and our most vulnerable access to resources that will eliminate the community impacts that are preventing this.

Tanille Johnston…

We need to create a downtown where everyone in our community feels safe to enjoy and to use at all hours of the day. Making that happen will take collaboration and innovation.

It takes an acknowledgement that relocation as the ultimate solution doesn’t account for the reality that moving a person or person(s) doesn’t stop addiction in our city. It’s larger than a housing issue, that’s a piece, but simply adding roofs over heads is not going to remove toxic substances from our community.

Illegal behaviours have consequences through bylaws, policies and legislation that enable enforcement to act. The federal and provincial governments have dedicated millions annually to working with municipalities to support strategies and approaches to mitigating the vast world of addiction and co-occurring disorders that has been exasperated by the toxic drug supply.

We need to leverage community partners, the funds that are out there for municipalities to launch plans for coming up against the toxic drug supply, take a holistic approach to managing our public’s safety and our vulnerable populations’ basic human rights, and access to treatment. We have yet to partner with organizations like the Provincial Health Services Association and/or First Nations Health Authority, and our Local Nations to bring together multiple funding sources to build a robust plan for creating pathways to health, healing and safety.

We haven’t had the right education and experience around the council table to really invest in this work and I’m keen to bring that forward. I’ve been a social worker for over a decade including for five years in Victoria. I’m invested in doing this work, vote Tanille October 5th and let me put my skills to use for our city.

Ben Lanyon…

There are three things which I believe need to be done simultaneously:

1. Work with Health Authorities, First Nations, and non-profits to build and run an addiction and mental health facility on the North Island (not in close proximity to downtown). When someone is accepting of treatment, then treatment needs to begin immediately, not in 6 months.

2. Work with developers who are willing to include 1 to 3 ultra low rent units ($375/mo) in their buildings to accept people who have graduated from mental health/addiction treatment. This protects them and local residents from over-concentration and from being pulled back downtown once they are doing better.

The incentive for cooperating developers could be priority queue in permitting processes because we need these spaces immediately. Densification bonuses are another way to incentivize developers without burdening taxpayers. Capital contributions from BC Housing/CMHC might also be relevant.

3. Influence police, bylaw, private security, and judiciary to begin stepping up law enforcement gradually. We need to be harder on violence and theft in my opinion. We need a very unified council in order to carry the necessary weight to do this.

The end result is a town that rigorously enforces law, treats the vulnerable using provincial funding, and then integrates healthier people back into a life of productive purpose. We must also figure out how to reduce migration here so that we do not bear a disproportionate burden. I think the necessary friction will come from strict enforcement of laws and bylaws. I am open to other ideas on this, but so far this seems like the most viable approach. It solves problems instead of shuffling responsibility.

GROUP 2 CANDIDATES: HERE

Candidates not responding yet: Doug Chapman, Ron Kerr.

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