Demonstrators rally for a winter shelter in Grand Forks on Wednesday. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Demonstrators urge quick action on winter shelter

‘It’s so cold out there at night, people are freezing in a motorhome’

Protesters took to Gyro Park Wednesday afternoon to amplify their demand for Grand Forks to act quickly and establish a winter shelter for people experiencing homelessness in the area.

“It’s so cold out there at night, people are freezing in a motorhome,” said Mona Rosengren, who is living in a trailer east of downtown at the Moto site. “It’s an ice bucket,” she added.

A couple dozen local demonstrators, joined by activist Ivan Drury of the Alliance Against Displacement – a group that has staged rallies in Maple Ridge and Nanaimo – took to the park to speak about what they said is an urgent need to speed up the process of getting a shelter set up in Grand Forks.

“We want the city to do something about a shelter now,” said Grand Forks Humanitarian Action Group (GFHAG) member Terri Taggart – “not in three weeks – now.”

Flanked by members of the homeless community in Grand Forks and fellow GFHAG supporters, Lorraine Dick took to the microphone to explain what she sees happening in Grand Forks.

“When did we start to believe that some lives are worth less than others,” said Dick, drawing a line between delays and the the health risk to people living outdoors. “This is a moral issue, not a judgemental one,” Dick added.

Both Taggart and Dick expressed frustration with the time that the City and the Social Services Advisory Group (SSAG) have taken to settle on a solution. The SSAG has been meeting since mid-August to work out a shelter solution for this winter. At a meeting on Aug. 13, the group agreed that the city needed an emergency winter shelter.

Since then, the group has been sending letters to churches and other facility owners that may have the capacity to offer an emergency shelter space. The group has also expressed interest to Interior Health to make use of the former women’s transition house at the hospital as a shelter, though no official word from the health authority has come back yet.

In order to set up a BC Housing-funded shelter in Grand Forks, the Crown corporation has said that it needs three things confirmed: a location, an operator and the approval from council. As of yet, none of the three pillars are confirmed, despite several churches having looked into the possibility of offering the space and the advisory group reaching out to other organizations.

“I know the intention is good,” said Taggart of the advisory group’s work, “but what I see happen is everything getting lost in bureaucracy.”

“We want to send a message to the City and the province that these people are freezing to death,” said Taggart. “Where’s our humanity?”

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