The donation jar sits on the table surrounded by petitions to the City of Campbell River at Thursday's Grassroots Kind Hearts rally downtown behind Radiant Life Church. Volunteers with the initiative say they're being harassed to shut down

No, the mayor does not want the homeless to starve

Grassroots Kind Hearts has the support of mayor and council

Contrary to the rumour circulating on social media sites recently, the mayor of Campbell River does not, in fact, want the homeless people of our community to starve.

A recent Facebook post spreading amongst Campbell River social media users accusing Mayor Andy Adams of trying to shut down a local initiative to feed the city’s homeless population is unfounded, he said at a recent rally to support Grassroots Kind Hearts.

Grassroots Kind Hearts is an initiative begun by local Krissandra Rufus to provide food to the homeless in the downtown core. It’s not an organization, but it is becoming a movement.

The initiative’s volunteers provide supper to any in need behind Radiant Life Church on Cypress Street every weekday.

It started when Rufus’ nephew messaged her, saying he was homeless and hungry.

“So I came down to bring him some food, and he had all these friends down here, and I thought, ‘Well, I can’t just feed him, I have to feed everybody,'” she said at the rally Thursday, which featured a bluegrass band, petitions to the City, and boxes of donations flowing in to help.

“I was homeless before, too, about 25 years ago,” she said, so she understands the difficulty faced by those members of our community. “I can’t see them not eat.”

She started the initiative by setting up a table near the Visitor’s Centre, at Tyee Plaza, but they were shuffled along, she said, and set up at Robert Ostler Park. After being “harassed” by the police, Rufus said, they found a temporary home behind Radiant Life Church, with the blessing of pastor Art Van Holst.

“He gave us a trial period of two weeks, and we’ve been here three months now,” Rufus says. “He’s never asked us to leave.”

Recently, however, the group says they have been feeling the pressure to shut the initiative down – some saying by order of the mayor.

“The RCMP have been there telling us they were told by the mayor to ‘clean up the town,’ and that includes the homeless people,” says Sue Taylor, who volunteers with the initiative. “We don’t know for sure that it came from the mayor, but we’ve been told it did.”

Taylor, who says she has a background in the social service sector, having “worked with Income Assistance in the past,” said what they’re doing is helping address a wider problem within the community, and they should be feeling support from those in power – rather than harassment and pressure to stop.

“We want to work together to come up with solutions,” she said, “but it feels like they just want us to go away. Well, that’s not going to happen. We understand it’s a Band-Aid solution. We know that it’s a societal issue and we’re not going to solve it with food, but we’re doing what we can do to help. This is what we can do to help.”

The recent Facebook post calling out the mayor, which spurred the support rally Thursday, expressed support for Rufus and the initiative, and claimed, “The Mayor of Campbell River does not want her to feed the homeless!!!! It sickens me to think we have some one (sic) willing to do all this hard work and the Mayor thinks she should not. Please share, people need to know what this mayor is doing!!!!”

When the mayor got wind of this, he immediately came to the group’s defense.

“I have absolutely not talked to the police about this,” Adams says. “I think anyone providing a service like this for the community should be commended.”

In fact, he was one of the first people to sign the petition at the event, which calls for the City to get on board and work with the initiative.

“It was really disheartening and disappointing to see the post – that was completely fabricated and false – that council, and in particular, me – was giving direction to the RCMP to keep bouncing these people around. That’s the last thing we want to do. We’ve got all these people that are providing invaluable services to our most vulnerable people, and we need to find ways to make it easier, not harder.”

He also says the City has already been working with various organizations to come up with solutions to overcome the various barriers in place.

“The struggle that the City has is that while it’s a community issue, financially it’s a federal and provincial responsibility.”

Where the city has been successful in making a difference, Adams says, is in cooperative and collaborative efforts like Rose Harbour.

“The City owned the land, we offered the land at no cost, waived the development permit fees, provided all the utility hookups – which is a substantial amount – and then the organization was able to use that as matching in-kind money to leverage the province and the feds to build Rose Harbour.”

He says they should be using the types of models that have proven successful – like Rose Harbour, the soon-to-be Hospice House project, like Habitat for Humanity – and work together with all of the various organizations and stakeholders to work towards solving the problem, and he and council are more than willing to do that.

Which is a relief to the folks involved in Grassroots Kind Hearts.

“We just have to take it day by day, I think, and see where it goes from here,” Rufus says.

The community has definitely jumped on board, however, helping with food donations and their time. The Grassroots Kind Hearts Facebook page now has over 400 members, and Rufus has been forced to buy another freezer to keep all the meat being donated.

“I think I have six or seven turkeys, now,” she says. “I’ve got a separate area in my house to store (donated) food.”

And that food will continue to be distributed in the form of a nightly supper behind the Radiant Life Church, with the blessing of the mayor, while they work together to find a more permanent solution.