A meeting of concerned residents last week turned up few answers to the complex issues of housing, homelessness and crime in Grand Forks, but did ask community leaders to better work together to solve the problems.
The meeting was hosted by the grassroots Citizens for a Better Grand Forks and sponsored by the city. The event was moderated by Michael Strukoff and about 160 people attended.
Representatives from many of the city’s agencies were present, including from Whispers of Hope, ANKORS, BC Housing, Boundary Family Services, and the Downtown Business Association.
Each member of the panel gave a brief introductory statement, which was followed by a question period from the audience.
Questions from members of the public centred largely on two projects: BC Housing’s developments on Second Street and 19th Street, and the Whispers of Hope Community Kitchen on Fifth Street in the downtown area.
Ann Howard from BC Housing said they are hearing across the Okanagan that BC Housing strategy for supportive housing is working, in places like Penticton and Kelowna.
Dianna Darling, a member of Citizens for a Better Grand Forks, said that her organization is against the “band-aid” approach to services and that more is needed to prevent individuals not taking responsibility for their actions.
In response to a question, Mayor Brian Taylor noted that it was not the city’s responsibility to run services like this for its residents, but to advocate for them. “Our job is to get out there and get them for our community,” he said. “In order for anything to be successful, those support services have to be successful and we as council have to fight for them.”
In response to a question from the audience about the level of support available in Grand Forks, Howard said that while many do need services, she has seen people who require very little.
“There are a number of kinds of service. Sometimes it’s a matter of having a safe place to get their life together and they don’t need any services beyond that,” Howard said.
Taylor said following the city’s announcement this week that they are in negotiations with BC Housing, it was potentially to move the Second Street supportive housing project to 70th Street, near BC Housing’s other ongoing projects on 19th Street.
“We are in negotiations with BC Housing to switch from Second Street to 70th Street,” Taylor said. “The negotiations are proceeding, but we are not signing a deal on that until we explain the situation and have a public meeting on zoning and the project moving before we make a final decision.”
There were also questions raised about the operations of the warming centre and by which organization it was run. Louise Heck, who sits on the “warming centre sub-committee” said the warming centre is run by a subcommittee of the Whispers of Hope board, at least until June and following the Whispers AGM on May 15, when the new board can decide their involvement.
Darling acknowledged that she has issues with the location of the community kitchen, but added it was better to “find solutions.”
“I am a NIMBY, my home is directly behind the community kitchen,” she said. “We know it is going where it’s going, we know it is important to make it a success. We will work with Melissa [Shulga], with Whispers of Hope to make it a success. Instead of fighting on Facebook we have to start working together, finding common ground and working outwards from there so we can feel included.”
When the meeting’s agenda turned to the question of how to move forward, roughly one-third of the audience left.
Addressing that question, Boundary Family Services representative Darren Pratt said his organization, which was involved in discussions about the warming centre early on, would expect to include the “community voice.”
“I think Dianna [Darling] hit it on the head. In November and December, there was an advisory group convened and I think the piece missing was a community voice,” Pratt said. “If we move forward there is an expectation that the advisory move forward with that community voice.”
“The intent is there are options, cooperation, lots of groups are working on this but you need to work on it together,” said Strukoff, the evening’s moderator. “You need to get together, come to a meeting, and talk about how to tackle this as a group rather than an individual. There is no short-term solution, it has to be a planned long-term solution.”