The City of Grand Forks is looking to use its influence at the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) board table to push directors to make addressing issues of homelessness a priority for the governing body.
Grand Forks city council unanimously endorsed a motion during a regular meeting on Dec. 16, asking that, as of member of the board, the RDKB “take a leadership role in addressing the homeless issues in the area.”
“I think the the situation is critical enough that we need more than simply facilitation – we need leadership,” said Grand Forks mayor Brian Taylor when presenting his motion. “That’s not saying that we need to commit to spending money right now,” Taylor said, “but we need the brainpower of both our regional district and our city to have them work together” to find solutions and ways to ease homelessness issues locally.
Outside city hall before the meeting, a group of demonstrators gathered for a candlelight vigil to express their sadness at Grand Forks not having a shelter option for people living rough locally. The only extreme weather shelter in the RDKB is in Trail and has reportedly had to turn away people after its six beds have filled up for the night.
“Homelessness will not end until every level of government, including municipalities, puts forth a concerted and coordinated effort to solve this national problem,” said Lorraine Dick, one of the demonstrators. “Unfortunately, the one level of government least able to affect change is the one having to directly deal with it. The homelessness issue rests firmly on the back of municipalities and their surrounding communities.”
Dick acknowledged that municipalities are ill-equipped to deal with growing issues, but argued that they “do have the responsibility to ensure that tent cities have access to basic amenities such as wood, water, toilets, security, and garbage disposal.” Currently Dick and a group of volunteers have been supplying rough campers with things like potable water and firewood.
In Grand Forks, an advisory group consisting of stakeholders and service providers from the Boundary has been meeting since August to discuss and troubleshoot issues around homelessness. Much of the group’s attention through the fall fell to establishing a winter shelter in the area, but as of Dec. 20, no confirmed operator or location could be confirmed.
“I do concur that if the region could take stock of itself with what it has and what it needs, that perhaps they could go forwards with an even stronger voice to the province,” said Coun. Chris Moslin, who is the secretary for the advisory group.
“We have all smart people around who have the ability to consult with other communities and get some new ideas and talk to BC Housing about being more flexible around things,” said Taylor. “We need to let them loose to solve the problem.”
The RDKB is currently undertaking a housing needs study across the region, which is meant to be completed by August 2020.
In the request for proposals for the study, the RDKB lays out criteria for the project, noting that “the housing needs [portion] should cover the full housing continuum, from providing emergency shelter and housing for the homeless to market home ownership.”