‘We don’t have the luxury of waiting’ Homelessness task group gets all hands on deck

photo Jeremy Shepherd

At the nexus of the overdose epidemic, the housing affordability crisis and the increasingly high cost of living, there’s homelessness.

On Friday, representatives from myriad agencies as well as local governments met at Poirier rec centre to talk about homelessness, the work on the front lines and the projects on the backburner.

“Can you focus on homelessness without talking about housing?” asked Coast Mental Health chief executive officer Keir Macdonald during an informal table discussion that featured representatives from B.C. Housing and Fraser Health.


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Any conversation about housing can vary greatly depending on who that housing is for, responded Frank Tick, co-ordinated access and assessment manager with B.C. Housing.

When it comes to seniors who are independent but at risk of homelessness due to financial pressures, building housing can be relatively easy, Tick said.

“No one’s going to say: ‘We don’t want a seniors affordable housing building next to my house,’” Tick said.

However, when the conversation turns to building a shelter, there’s often pushback, he added.

There’s a need to mobilize “public empathy,” said Fraser Health social worker Wade Usborne.

“But we don’t have the luxury of waiting,” he told the group. “We need shovels in the ground now. We need homes built now.”

It would be “very reasonable” to expect the homeless situation to get worse, Usborne said, noting both rising costs and increasingly challenging healthcare needs of many homeless people.

The meeting came on the heels of a critical report on the 3030 Gordon Avenue homeless shelter. The report outlined numerous concerns including threats and assaults at local businesses as well as what some described as the a “growing desperation” from addicted people trying to get into recovery.

The report made several recommendations, including establishing one or two hubs in the Tri-Cities where homeless people can get a meal, a shower, do some laundry and get access to basic healthcare as well as services like income assistance.

The idea of a hub elicited strong support from many attendees at Friday’s meeting. The idea is achievable, Usborne said.

“We don’t need shovels in the ground, we just need a space.”

However, like many topics broached at the Poirier meting, the issue came down to money and responsibility.

“One of the challenges we’ve seen with hubs is that question of who funds it?” Tick said, noting the hub doesn’t neatly fall into any specific mandate.

“Is it health? Is it housing? Is it a municipal responsibility?” Tick asked.

Discussions at Friday’s meeting delved into topics ranging from frustration with bureaucratic limitations to the considerable barriers that can confront a homeless person seeking services.

If there’s a recognition that there’s a basic need, government needs to find a way to meet that need, Macdonald replied.

“Why can’t government figure that out?” he asked. “If we recognize that these are essential, valuable pieces of the continuum, government: figure it out.”

Out of the silos

Speaking earlier in the day, Port Coquitlam Coun. Glenn Pollock emphasized the importance of getting everyone out of silos and into one room.

“Networking leads to collaboration,” Pollock said.

The province recently announced plans to implement “regular attendance” from 3030 Gordon Ave. shelter operator RainCity at all Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group meetings.

The meeting included organizations ranging from the RCMP to Fraser Health, the Phoenix Society, the Hope for Freedom Society. YWCA, SHARE Family Services as well as city staff members and politicians including Coquitlam Coun. Matt Djonlic, Port Moody Coun. Amy Lubik, and Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West.

The event was hosted by Urban Matters.


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