Thursday, October 19, 2017

Councillor Thorkelson seeks solutions for homeless residents as wetter, colder weather approaches

City Councillor Joy Thorkelson made a heartfelt plea Monday night for some action
this fall and winter to provide a dry and safe space for the city's homeless 

With the North Coast about to enter into the fall and winter seasons, Councillor Joy Thorkelson once again issued a call for the community to lend some assistance to some of the most vulnerable residents of the region.

Speaking at the end of Monday's Council session, Ms. Thorkelson noted that with the arrival of the rainy season the homeless situation is something that requires attention. expressing her concern for the well being of those without a dry and safe place to stay in the worst of the elements.

With the Councillor reminding Council that despite all of their engagement on housing issues with local providers, the community still does not have a proper shelter other than that at Raffles,  noting how that facility run by the Salvation Army which does not house women, leaving those couples that don't want to be split up to seek their own housing.

Restrictions on who can access emergency housing at
Raffles is sending many homeless residents to the streets in Prince Rupert

The councillor expressed frustration with the ongoing theme on housing that council has examined over the years and noted that Council needs to continue to put pressure on the government to deliver proper supportive housing resources to the community.

Calling as well for some kind of place where people who have mental health and addictions problems can sleep and have an actual home and not have to live on the streets as many Prince Rupert residents currently do.

She also had a pair of other issues to call attention to Council, calling for the support of the business community to establish some kind of a day area, where homeless people could stay during the day, something that could take them off the streets around town and out of the elements, offering shelter and washroom facilities.

She recounted some of the issues of safety and health that the current situation is delivering with the homeless having to relieve themselves outdoors in the community, observing that the City should find a way to ensure that there are public bathrooms available in the community for residents and visitors alike. 

"Every human being has the right to go to bathroom as a human right, it has to be a human right" -- Councillor Joy Thorkelson sharing a number of thoughts related to Prince Rupert's homeless situation. 

The Councillor offered up some of her observations from other communities where facilities are provided, suggesting the use of port-a-potties, or speak to local merchants, or try to find a day area to provide a dry option and washroom facilities for the homeless.

To provide an example of how the project could work, she recounted what the Fishermen's Hall had offered over a three week period last year during the worst of the weather, noting that the homeless were very appreciative of their assistance at that time.

She observed that the City could engage with the community to try to come up with a solution for the issue before the worst of the weather arrives, and how its not right that some of the city's population should have to face this issue.

The Mayor noted that there are a multiple organizations working on the housing issues, a theme that Councillor Thorkelson added some notes on, highlighting the work of Metlakatla on housing, but stressing her concern over the need for supportive housing to address the needs of those with mental and addictions issues and how that is an area where the City will have to continue to push the province on.

For the shorter term she made note of some of the empty buildings in the downtown area and how she hoped someone would open those doors to help out with the need this winter, suggesting that the City might want to seek out a grant to ensure that a dry space is available with a washroom to provide for a solution for this winter.

The issues that Ms. Thorkelson raise are important ones and need to be acted on before we get too long into the worst of the weather ahead.

Anyone who takes a walk in the downtown area for any length of time can view first hand the situation that the homeless in the city are facing, with many back alleys and other locations serving as defacto outdoor gathering spots.

Some areas where the Councillor may wish to seek out some temporary funding to get her initiative underway could be through a few Civic options that wouldn't affect taxpayers in any way.

On Monday, Mayor Brain outlined how the City of Prince Rupert had just received $150,000 in funding from the Province of British Columbia's Rural Dividend, which Mr. Brain noted will be directed towards the ReDesign Rupert initiative.

Last year some of the ReDesign money was put towards a number of community events, including a community engagement session that delivered a number of door prizes to help spur on participation.

Ms. Thorkelson might want to tap into that community spirit to approach Council members who have some say on how that Rural Dividend money is used, perhaps inquiring as to whether they might want to redirect some of that ReDesign money to address a more immediate community priority.

As well, she could also seek the input from Council to perhaps review how they handle the distribution of funding from the City's own Legacy Corporation, where there could be some wriggle room for Council to use, as they try and seek a wider pool of funding and assistance from community stakeholders to move her dry space plan forward.

In addition to the local options, City Council could take the issue to North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, to see if she can deliver some emergency funding towards the dry space concept, while continuing to seek out a larger assistance on the region's homeless situation.

You can hear the Councillor's review of the dire situation facing the homeless in Prince Rupert from the Video Archive of Monday's Council session, it starts at the one hour five minute mark.

For a wider overview of the Housing issues of the Northwest see our archive page here.

More background on Monday's Council session is available from our Council Timeline Feature.

To dig a little deeper into the many items of note covered by City Council see our Council Discussion archive page here.

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