In a move that Grand Forks mayor Frank Konrad called “hypocritical,” the City of Grand Forks council has voted to support an application for federal funding on affordable housing by the Boundary Women’s Coalition.
Dara Sutton, executive director of the Boundary Women’s Coalition, appeared before Grand Forks’ Committee of the Whole on Monday morning to ask for a letter of support. The letter will be included in a grant application the coalition is submitting to the Homeless Partnering Strategy Rural and Remote Funding program, a body of funding Sutton said is designed specifically for small towns to use to create a strategy on affordable housing. The city was not asked for funding.
Sutton said the Boundary Women’s Coalition is submitting a grant application for $100,000 on Oct. 20. That money will allow for a point-in-time count of the Boundary’s homeless population; allow for a coordinator to work on community’s commitment to end homelessness; and allow consultants to come the Boundary to create a strategic plan.
In explaining the different components of the plan, Sutton said that while people have been working on these elements in the community for years, now was the time to access funding that would allow for more opportunities in future.
“A point-in-time count … provides a baseline for the scope of the issue. In that we provide an honorarium for the surveyors who are themselves homeless,” Sutton said. “It is boots on the street.”
“This tool is recognized nation-wide by funders,” Sutton added.
The grant is a federal funds program, and Sutton said sustainable funding is available through the federal and provincial governments for action coming out of that plan.
Sutton said the estimate of homeless people largely accepted in the region hovers around 80; that is “qualitative data” gained through conversation, she said.
Sutton asked the city to lend their support to the application through a letter, as well as other in-kind commitments of support detailed in the letter.
“The funders require, for serious consideration, that the municipal government be on board. If you are not on board, I cannot apply, it is that simple,” Sutton said.
Overall, councillors were enthusiastic in their support of the application and of being part of the initiative.
“It is an amazing opportunity when you have the right person come to your community at the right time, and for the right project,” Coun. Julia Butler said. “We have all three. This is a no brainer, this is amazing and we get to be a part.”
Coun. Neil Krog questioned when and if Sutton would be taking this request for support to other councils in the area for support.
“We are not the only council. For years it seems like everyone comes here first and when we ask they either haven’t thought of or haven’t done other presentations. If you want it to be Boundary-wide we are one of the players, one of the councils,” Krog said, reiterating that he did support the initiative.
Krog and Konrad both questioned Sutton’s proposal that the city lead and liase with other municipalities in supporting the initiative.
“The reason that I started here first is if I get ‘no’ here, I have no chance anywhere else,” Sutton said in response.
“I would suggest council endorse this and send a letter of endorsement to the other communities to let them know we are supporting this and let them decide from there,” Coun. Chris Hammett.
Having a strategic plan on ending homelessness is the first step in accessing more funding to take further action. Housing First is a multi-pronged approach that stresses “housing first” for people experiencing homelessness, but also provides mental health supports, recovery services and life skills help for people in need.
“The consultants that assisted Alberta in making their strategic plan are available . . . we would access the services of that consulting team to work with us to create the strategic plan,” she said.
Konrad suggested that any support from the city would be hypocritical given the actions of the city towards Whispers of Hope and the Boundary Emergency Transition and Housing Society (BETHS) over the summer, which Sutton mentioned.
“Making this letter of support,. … does that not fly in the face? Is it not contradictory? It is totally negative of this whole program,” Konrad said. “It almost seems hypocritical that we are putting in a letter of support from the city yet within the corporation we are doing what we are doing.”
Sutton agreed with the mayor’s assertion that the city’s actions were hypocritical, while Coun. Christine Thompson clarified that the city did not order the organizations to cease servic, but provided them notice to relocate from their current space.
Council voted in favour of sending the request for consideration at that evening’s meeting; at that meeting council voted to submit a letter of support for the application.
In the letter, council committed to participating in initiatives taking action on homelessness; liaising with Boundary local governments; implementing community planning tools to increase affordable rental housing stock; and explore partnership opportunities and resources, among other things.
Should the application be unsuccessful, Sutton said via email that the group plans to move forward with other avenues to achieve the same goal.
Sutton said that individuals and other agencies have submitted letters of support; anyone wishing to do so can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.