Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson said he will not stop trying to find help for the homeless following a recent email from BC Housing raising concerns about his unannounced visits to their shelters.
“I can tell you one thing,” Hamer-Jackson told KTW. “If there’s somebody on the sidewalk freezing to death, I will try my best to get them into a shelter in Kamloops, B.C.”
BC Housing recently sent the email to the City of Kamloops. In the correspondence, a BC Housing representative described a visit Hamer-Jackson paid to Moira House, a year-round shelter in Westmount, on Nov. 13 as inappropriate behaviour that was part of a pattern of concern.
Hamer-Jackson has long been known to conduct early-morning outreach with the homeless and often visits shelters.
The mayor, noting he was shown the email by city chief administrative office David Trawin, said he visited Moira House at about 7 a.m. on Nov. 13 with newly elected councillors Kelly Hall and Stephen Karpuk. He said the trio went to Moira House, seeking wheelchair-accessible shelter for a homeless man.
Hamer-Jackson said they had been visiting winter shelters at the former Stuart Wood elementary and at the Yacht Club when they met the man on the street and went to Moira House to see if it had room for him. Hamer-Jackson said he also wanted to inquire of the whereabouts of another homeless man he knew.
When they arrived at the site’s gate, Hamer-Jackson said a man approached and gave them a number to call. Hamer-Jackson said he called and the woman on the line told him Moira House was full and they left. He said he has since received correspondence from BC Housing, but did not wish to discuss that further.
In an email, BC Housing told KTW that while it welcomes people helping others access shelter, operators have established processes to support visits to the sites.
The provincial body said unannounced visits inside shelters cannot be accommodated, given how disruptive they are to the privacy of shelter guests and to staff who are stretched and working in very challenging circumstances.
Asked if the city condones the mayor trying to connect people with shelter, Trawin said it’s not his place to say, noting Hamer-Jackson is acting on his own as an individual in that effort.
Trawin said the city supports getting people sheltered, which is why it works with organizations like BC Housing.
“The mayor out there doing the mayor’s thing, it has nothing to do with the City of Kamloops, it has nothing to do with council,” Trawin said.
“I think the mayor has other concerns with shelters that I think has been fully documented in the past, but there are appropriate ways that, if he or any member of the city wants to know what’s going on in the shelters, then there’s a proper process to follow.”
Hamer-Jackson stressed the need for transparency when it comes to shelter operators. He indicated that for the past three years, he has been the major outreach worker after 4:30 p.m. and before 8 a.m. and criticized a lack of outreach workers and shuttle service to get people into shelters.
“I’m just trying to help here,” Hamer-Jackson said. “Until we get proper outreach workers and we get this shuttle moving … no, I’m not going to quit.”
Moira House is run by the Kamloops chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
Executive director Alfred Achoba said clients and visitors to shelters like Moira House cannot show up unannounced.
“If the mayor showed up to your office every day to bring news to you or to check on what you’re doing, I’m sure you would have concerns,” Achoba said.
“And, like any other guest, if people show up unannounced when there’s a formal process they have to take, then yes, it is disruptive as well.”
Achoba shot down rumours on social media that claim scheduled visits are required because the CMHA is hiding something about its operations.
“We service 131 individuals a night in shelter,” Achoba said, adding he hopes this can be a learning opportunity for people to better understand how shelter operators triage clients.