An idea coming out of the City of Campbell River’s Downtown Safety Select Committee caught the eye of some homelessness advocates this month.
The idea, which has not been approved or gone before council, is to remove the glass ceiling on the Spirit Square stage in the winter, thus preventing people from gathering in that area. The cost of removing the glass would be around $25,000. However, a few doctors who support vulnerable people questioned the idea, writing a letter to council in response.
“For our team, having an area of congregation where we can safely reach those least likely to access medical care is of benefit,” reads the letter, signed by Dr. Erika Kellerhals and Dr. Jessie Flear, primary care and addictions physicians with the Campbell River and District Division of Family Practice.
“It is a venue to meet and work on connecting individuals to vital services and options within our community that strive to work on long term solutions for those with very complex needs. Actions to limit communal spaces targeted at those who are already marginalized, stigmatized, and viewed as a blight if in plain sight, is not the direction we as medical professionals and community members condone,” it continues.
The Downtown Safety Select Committee is a volunteer committee that was set up after the city set aside $225,000 in funding to deal with safety in the downtown area. The committee is made up of downtown business owners “who are directly affected by downtown safety issues,” according to a November press release from the city.
The group has a “specific mandate to provide council with recommendations on how that money should be spent,” explained Deputy City Manager Ron Neufeld.
“The task force has been meeting over the past couple of months, and the roof at Spirit Square has been one of the issues they’ve talked about,” he said. “They flagged the possibility of either permanent or seasonal removal of the roof as an item that they may yet recommend to council. They haven’t made a final recommendation yet, but that’s one of the things they were talking about.”
However, Kellerhals sees the idea of removing the glass as something that “further disperses vulnerable people.”
“I think there’s a stigma piece and a discrimination piece around this: ‘We don’t want to see you in Spirit Square, what’s our downtown core come to?’ For me, if this is not where we want people to be seeking shelter, let’s provide some shelter elsewhere in a place to feels more suitable to the city,” she said.
“It’s always a hard go being homeless, but with COVID-19 protocols and lots of indoor spaces being closed, there’s a lack of places for people to go,” she added. “I just want to stand up for vulnerable folks and say ‘hey let’s not just chase these poor people around downtown and take away one of the only shelter spaces they have.’ If it’s going to cost the city a lot, why not make a space somewhere else that has a bit of a heated source?”
The committee will continue to meet until its four-month term is complete, and will submit a report to council with its ideas for how to use the funding. Council will then make a decision based on the report.