Grand Forks city council shot down a plan last week that would have permitted service providers to install a hand-washing station and port-a-potty to the handful of people currently living at a pop-up encampment off Morrissey Creek Road, despite having approved a plan to restrict access to the site to any new RVs or trailers earlier this month.
Representatives from three health and social services providers asked for council’s support at the June 15 regular meeting, noting that money to acquire and maintain the services would be provided by BC Housing.
“We have been concerned because there isn’t a lot of sanitation services there,” said Cheryl Dowden, executive director for AIDS Network Kootenay Outreach and Support Society (ANKORS). “We’re concerned that there isn’t any place for folks to wash their hands or go to the bathroom.”
Dowden said that her organization is providing five foot-pump camp showers to residents of the Moto site, but emphasized the need for more basic services too.
“The inability to access water, food, sanitation and waste management all create a cumulative risk for the development of disease and outbreaks, of both gastro-intestinal diseases or respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 at a camp,” added Interior Health Authority’s regional harm reduction coordinator, Jennifer Driscoll, who appeared on Zoom alongside Dowden and Bob Hughes, the executive director of ASK Wellness. Driscoll was citing directives from B.C.’s provincial health officer.
With public buildings such at the Grand Forks Aquatic Centre, the library and others closed or restricted due to COVID-19, accessible places to get clean and maintain hygiene have been in short supply. The city has installed port-a-potties at key locations such as City and Gyro parks to help with public washroom access.
Councillors Rod Zielinski, Zak Eburne-Stoodley and Cathy Korolek voted against granting permission, while Couns. Chris Moslin, Christine Thompson and Mayor Brian Taylor voted for the motion. Councillor Neil Krog was absent from the meeting.
“What I’m struggling with is that just because somebody [BC Housing] is funding it today and it may be there until September – if those people stay there and [the services] end up being taken away – I think that’s a bigger disservice than not giving it to them at all,” said Zielinski before voting against the motion.
Grand Forks city councillors have previously expressed concern that installing any type of sanitation service at the camp would encourage more people to move to the site. However, earlier this month council resolved to effectively close out the site by attrition. While staff won’t be telling any of the current residents to leave, the city will be installing gates and barriers to prevent any new RVs or trailers from moving in.
At an earlier committee of the whole, council was presented with a petition from residents of Valley Heights and Rattlesnake Mountain, asking the city to “prevent the expansion of the encampment and promptly work to affect the removal of the squatters” at the Moto site, which is land owned by the city. The Grand Forks fire department has responded to at least four fires at or near the site since last September.