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B.C. attorney general will meet with Kamloops council on Jan. 25

David Eby is also the minister of housing and his appearance date will coincide with a notice of motion on shelter preparedness in the city
David Eby
Attorney General and minister responsible for housing David Eby.

A notice of motion aimed at pushing for proactive shelter planning ahead of extreme weather events will be heard at the Jan. 25 council meeting — the same meeting at which Attorney General and Minister of Housing David Eby will appear digitally.

The notice of motion was put together by councillors Dale Bass, Sadie Hunter and Kathy Sinclair and was presented on Tuesday, Jan. 11.

As previously reported on by KTW, the formal written motion asks staff to work with BC Housing, School District 73, Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and other partners to set up temporary beds and daytime spaces for every unhoused Kamloops citizen during extreme weather.

Planning would include beds and warming centres on the North and South shores, as well as spaces for wheelchair users, pet owners, couples and families.

It also calls for, on an annual basis, beds and daytime spaces to be finalized by Sept. 15 for extreme cold weather events and by April 15 for extreme hot weather and poor air quality events. Finally, it requests BC Housing present the results by delegation to council twice per year, in October and May.

Hunter said on Tuesday the current system is failing.

Alfred Achoba, executive director of the Kamloops chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, in December told KTW a man in a wheelchair died of hypothermia during that first cold snap. Service providers have offered overflow space for the city’s vulnerable, but more shelter spaces are needed.

“I really feel like there has to be a better way,” Hunter said.

Mayor Ken Christian, however, said some responsibility falls on the city. He said that while plans were in place to shelter homeless in Kamloops, those plans included continued use of the Kamloops Curling Club and Memorial Arena.

Although those shelters were always considered temporary, the city’s community and protective services director Byron McCorkell explained to KTW it was assumed the facilities would remain shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic The city’s user groups, however, were keen to get back on the ice and the curling club last week hosted the curling provincials, though McCorkell noted that event was touch and go due to the pandemic.

“We are the architects of the lack of planning to a great extent,” Christian told council.

Some discussion occurred about when a decision on the motion should be made. Hunter initially sought to expedite the process, but ultimately withdrew that request as it became clear council wanted to wait to talk to BC Housing representatives, who will meet next week with council.

A committee of the whole meeting is scheduled for Jan. 18 and comes in the wake of another council motion last year from Bass and Coun. Bill Sarai, which calls for a memorandum of understanding to be signed between the city and provincial housing branch and shelter location planning.

City staff said reports are coming.

Meanwhile, KTW reached out to BC Housing about the notice of motion and death of a man during the first cold snap of winter and received the following statement:

“We were saddened to hear the news of a man passing away from hypothermia this past November. We want to extend our sincere condolences to his family, friends and those in the community who knew him. For privacy reasons, we cannot speak directly to the circumstances that resulted in this man’s death.”

Kamloops has been experiencing extreme winter weather with temperatures dropping well below zero for the last two weeks. All shelters are operating above capacity at this time. We are working as quickly as possible to get the new shelter sites up and running. In December, we opened a shelter at Stuart Wood School that quickly reached capacity. The new Merit Place shelter on Notre Dame Drive, which will provide 50 more spaces, is nearing completion and we are working to open it as quickly as possible. In addition, the Moira House modular units will be open early this year, providing 40 more spaces.

“Since spring 2021, BC Housing has been working closely with the City of Kamloops to address the need for shelter space in the community, building on previous work to address the housing shortage in Kamloops. Community facilities like schools and community centres fall under the city’s jurisdiction, so we follow their lead on whether these spaces can be used for emergency shelter space. Shelters are the joint responsibility of municipalities and the province and both parties need to agree on location in order for a new shelter to open.

“We have been working in collaboration with the City of Kamloops identify multi-year shelters to provide more predictable shelter spaces. Once open, Merit Place will operate until March 2023 and the new Moira House shelter on Kingston Avenue will be open for three to five years.

“We know shelters are not a long-term solution to homelessness, which is why we also continue to work with the City to open supportive and affordable housing throughout the community. Since 2017, we have opened 160 supportive homes in Kamloops with another 79 underway. A further 429 affordable homes have opened or are underway since 2017. In addition, the City of Kamloops will be conducting a land-use analysis and community engagement process in the coming months that will help us identify areas suitable for permanent shelter and supportive housing projects.”

Push continues for complex care

Meanwhile, also under the provincial housing portfolio, the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus continues to push the issue of complex care. Thirteen B.C. mayors, including Christian, have put out another call for immediate action to implement complex care in response to vulnerable people being left on the streets.

The mayors argue that residents with overlapping issues of mental health, substance use, trauma and acquired brain injuries are left homelessness because they do not fit into current supportive housing, health-care or justice models.

“Together each of our communities are on the frontlines experiencing the same impact of gaps in the health, housing and justice system,” said Colin Basran, mayor of Kelowna and caucus co-chair, in a release. “Our most vulnerable are falling through the cracks. Municipalities have invested in supportive housing, funded more police and bylaw officers and created policies to increase inclusion in our communities and yet more needs to be done and for that we need the province’s support.”