Frustration over a lack of short-term solutions to social issues in Kamloops took centre stage at Tuesday’s (Feb. 9) city council meeting.
Councillors Dale Bass, Sadie Hunter and Kathy Sinclair presented an omnibus motion, requesting a study on social issues, feasibility of expanding storage and adding a day lodge for the homeless, addition of neighbourhood representation at the committee level and lobbying of the UBCM for provincial dollars.
The motion was defeated, but not before a lengthy and impassioned debate amongst council members.
“We have to really, really just take that leap … and be brave and do something,” Bass said.
Bass said regardless of what is done by staff, social agencies, Kamloops Fire Rescue, Kamloops RCMP and Interior Health, the problem never ends and requires change. Sinclair said street problems have worsened in the past year and cited failure in helping those hardest to house.
Another councillor estimated 30 per cent of the street population is in that category, based on agency information. Business owners are afraid to open and close shops, Sinclair said, with fires being started on properties. Meanwhile, she added, if community services (bylaws) officers move people along, there is nowhere for them to go. Sinclair said criminalizing health problems is a “Band-Aid” solution, but conceded businesses dealing with property damage are being kicked when they are down during the pandemic.
Coun. Bill Sarai said anxiety is up in the community, with law-abiding citizens at home following public health orders during the pandemic and businesses facing thousands of dollars worth of property damage. The Delta Hotel downtown is apparently among the latest businesses to voice concern to council.
“Rather than let’s help the people or let’s help the businesses, I really feel there is a win here for both,” Sinclair said, speaking to the motion.
Councillors, however, had qualms with parts of the motion.
Mayor Ken Christian opposed expanding the downtown storage facility, noting smaller facilities located across neighbourhoods would be better than congregation. Coun. Arjun Singh said a study into social issues takes time, noting experts in the community already know what is happening on the streets. Coun. Mike O’Reilly said the recommendations require city staff time.
Coun. Dieter Dudy questioned downloading of the problem and, therefore costs, from the province onto communities. Christian agreed, noting that, while the issue is everyone’s responsibility, the reality is deciding who pays. He said he continues to lobby the province and Housing Minister David Eby as part of the urban mayor’s caucus, including for complex care facilities in the Interior and across the province.
Christian said it comes down to a matter of civil liberties. Involuntary facilities, such as Riverview in the Lower Mainland, closed in British Columbia in the past.
“It is actually the No. 1 issue that the mayors of the 13 largest municipalities in British Columbia have brought forward to the government,” Christian said. “Mayors representing 2.8-million people in this province say the No. 1 issue is mental health and addiction and the impact it’s having on the streets in Nanaimo, in Prince George, in Kamloops and in Vancouver.”
Bass said meetings, including about the Car 40 program — which pairs a mental-health nurse with a Mountie as they respond to mental health-related calls — have occurred for some time, but aren’t going anywhere.
Sarai said when social issues impact land values and business viability, it becomes a city issue and that, no matter the jurisdiction — be it municipal, provincial or federal — taxpayer dollars come from residents’ pockets. He doubled down on previous calls from council for Interior Health to come to the table and said treatment options are necessary to support housing initiatives.
“We need to go to Victoria and really put some pressure on them,” Sarai said.
Hunter said the pace of funding from higher levels of government may not come soon enough. Singh suggested repurposing city funding for outreach, with eyes and ears on city streets around the clock. Sinclair said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue and COVID-19 relief funds could be used to come up with short-, medium- and long-term plans.
The mayor said putting the conversation in the public helps. In addition, staff said the city’s social plan is due for a rewrite and a request may be coming to council soon for additional resources to aid in social issues.
“I don’t believe that we’re leaving without having accomplished something,” Christian said after the motion was defeated.
• Sarai criticized shelter curfew times imposed by agencies. He cited a person travelling by foot in sub-zero temperatures, only to be told they missed curfew. He said many of those on the street don’t have watches and emergency shelter needs to be available in emergency situations, with security and police available to aid in disorderly situations.
• O’Reilly suggested a city-funded program to provide relief to businesses impacted by vandalism and otherwise hurting amid the pandemic, potentially $500, up to a maximum of $100,000. He suggested it would be discussed by the city’s finance committee.