Wednesday, April 15, 2020

British Columbia communities roll out response to homeless issues during COVID-19 period

While Prince Rupert residents still await word on what plans MLA Jennifer Rice and her group of local stakeholders have come up with towards housing alternatives for the homeless in this community, across the province other communities are rolling out a range of options to address one of the most pressing of civic issues in the province at the moment.

The most impressive effort in the Northwest so far is that which has been found in Smithers, where the Town of Smithers worked with a range of partners to deliver immediate emergency housing for the homeless, setting up an expansive camp set up on the outskirts of the city.

The encampment which offers accommodation for some of the town's homeless who had set up their own makeshift camps in various areas of the downtown area.

Smithers relocates downtown homeless population
Smithers get it right
Wellness camp provided for Smithers population

The move is seen as a temporary solution while a more permanent plan can be put in place, and those that relocate to the temporary site are doing so on a voluntary basis.

In the Interior region, Kamloops officials are also trying to address the growing  challenges that the homeless situation has created for that community. The City of Kamloops has been working towards providing for a place for the homeless and vulnerable population an option to self-isoalte, recently creating 50 spaces at two locations in the community.

'They are the same faces;' Kamloops staff weigh in on homeless population during pandemic
City of Kamloops searching for safe shelter for homeless and other vulnerable groups
City of Kamloops looking for shelters

In Vernon, the city and local stakeholders converted a local curling club into housing for the homeless to allow for the proper amount of social distancing required in the pandemic period. The move to bring the homeless to the new shelter one which brought all of the Vernon area service providers together in a common cause to find a solution to the situation.

Shelters move to curling rink
Vernon homeless shelters combine in curling club

On Vancouver Island, the City of Nanaimo has also taken some measures to try to protect those experiencing homelessness during this extraordinary situation.

In that city, civic officials have moved to provide for additional washrooms and hand sanitizing options around the city, as well as to re-convene their health and housing task force to try and gain some movement on larger solutions.

City of Nanaimo takes measures to protect people experiencing homelessness during pandemic
Confusion reigns as Nanaimo council decides how to help the homeless during pandemic
Use of free shower program soars during COVID-19 pandemic

The discussion of the homeless in Nanaimo also took place in the public domain of a Special City Council session, and as can be seen from the news items above, it was a forum where the elected officials went on the record and engaged in a lively and at times contentious debate on the topic.

Those approaches and the active engagement that a number of municipal governments have taken across the province seems somewhat opposite to that which is currently taking place in Prince Rupert.

In late March, Mayor Lee Brain  re-directed any public interest in the needs of the homeless to the MLA's office, a move that was announced through his Facebook page and one which none of the elected council members have made comment towards since.

"Unfortunately any community issues moving forward regarding housing, childcare, homelessness, etc are to be sent to Jennifer Rice's office as her and her team are now in control. You can forward your concerns to Jennifer Rice by calling 250-624-7734 or e-mailing"--  A portion of Mayor Lee Brain's statement from March 26

And as MLA Rice noted earlier this month, the city appears to have exacerbated an already troubling situation locally by ordering the closure of the existing homeless shelter in the middle of a health crisis.

Last week the Prince Rupert Labour Council called on the civiv government to put politics aside and join in with the local groups that are looking to address the situation.

Yet, since those  themes were introduced over the course of the last few weeks, the Mayor and Council have yet to speak to the issues of the homeless in the community.

For more notes on housing issues in the region see our archive page here.

A wider overview of City Council themes can be reviewed here.

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