The Grand Forks Social Services Advisory Group is sending letters to churches and landlords of buildings suitable to serve as an emergency weather shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Grand Forks.
The decision was made at last week’s meeting, held Tuesday at the RDKB office in Grand Forks, that letters explaining the issue and needs observed would be sent to relevant stakeholders. Representatives from the group had already approached Interior Health informally about using the former women’s transition house (which used to be a nurses’ residence) by the hospital but were reportedly told that it was not a viable option. Nevertheless, the group agreed that they would send a formal letter to Interior Health.
Behind the asks being sent out though, there was discussion around how many individuals would require use of an emergency shelter. According to Whispers of Hope reporting data to BC Housing, between 10 to 12 individuals were sleeping at the warming centre through January, February and March 2019.
According to an interim count submitted to the advisory group on Oct. 22 by Tammy Battersby of Blessings Boutique, which identified ages and shelter arrangements (i.e. tent, unsupported RV, shack, etc.) of 55 individuals who were identified as experiencing homelessness, including Grand Forks and rural Grand Forks. Battersby explained that approximately 15 to 2o individuals counted indicated that they would not seek emergency shelter support, either out of stigma, fear of loss of employment, or other arrangements.
Jan deHaan told the group that security contractor Bud Alcock had estimated that 23 individuals were “living rough” on public land, suggesting that individuals in RVs on private land, for example, may not be included in that total.
Boundary Family Services Society executive director Darren Pratt took the group through the basics of what it would take to do a thorough point-in-time count – a commonly done survey of people experiencing homelessness that, as its name suggests, offers an informed snapshot of the number of individuals who are living in a given region. In a more rural setting like Grand Forks, Pratt explained, it would take time and resources to do an effective count.
“I would not put it off because you don’t have $5,000 in your pocket though,” Coun. Chris Moslin said to the group, after having discussed what it would take to do a count. Pratt said that proper planning could take up to four months, meaning that such a survey would not be done before winter hits in earnest.
A group of concerned citizens attending the meeting said that they would be willing to volunteer their time to help with the count. The group, which did not have a formal name when it presented itself to the table on Tuesday, also asked the Advisory Group if they too could have a seat at the table, which includes social services providers, government representatives and two representatives from the Citizens for a Better Grand Forks (C4BGF) group.
Asked why this new group, which has since settled on “Grand Forks Humanitarian Action” as a name, would not appear under the umbrella of C4BGF, Terri Taggert, a representative of the newly formed group, replied that some of the views expressed by members of C4BGF did not align with their own.
The new group was reportedly denied a seat at the table, but, like any member of the public, has been invited to continue attending the advisory group meetings as a viewer in the gallery.