Kamloops city councillors say residents are experiencing “compassion fatigue” due to social actions being taken — such as building housing — while street problems persist.
Meanwhile, the city says it is leading to stigma that could impact future social housing and people in need as it continues to work toward solutions like rescheduling the point-in-time homeless count, an agreement around project planning with BC Housing and co-ordinated outreach, which recently hit the streets.
On Tuesday (Nov. 17), council discussed the city’s social challenges, which have come to the forefront as of late in Kamloops and elsewhere, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Council heard the city’s homeless population in 2018 was about 200 and the city expects that number to stay the same in the next count — rescheduled for the spring of 2021, following cancellation this year — or slightly increase, as was seen this year in other counts in British Columbia.
Despite housing initiatives undertaken in recent years, Coun. Dieter Dudy noted people can still be seen sleeping outside, though the city maintains it has enough shelter space for the winter. Coun. Bill Sarai wants BC Housing and Interior Health to come to the table to improve wraparound services.
“We’re not helping just by housing them and patting ourselves on the back,” Sarai said.
The city’s acting social and community development supervisor, Ty Helgason, said challenges in housing those individuals are complex and may include a lack of knowledge about available resources, a 30-day maximum stay in shelters and the gap between obtaining permanent accommodations, a distaste for shelter rules and trauma.
Helgason said a co-ordinated outreach response, including the ASK Wellness Society, Interior Community Services, Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society, city bylaws and community services officers and Kamloops RCMP, will help to bridge awareness of services.
Outreach began two weeks ago.
Helgason also explained the higher acuity street population has changed. At one time comprising an older demographic with alcohol-related issues, now, he said, the people are younger, with drugs of choice opioids and meth. He said it has resulted in individuals with “toxic brain damage” or experiencing psychosis, people who are harder to house and help.
Some neighbourhoods have raised concerns about increased nuisance behaviour. Council heard focus has been on spreading services throughout Kamloops, instead of centralizing them downtown and in North Kamloops, as was done in the past. One area recently reporting undesirable activity is Lower Sahali. In particular, Beattie elementary parents have expressed concerns about the impact of motels along West Columbia Street, near the school, which is on McGill Road, just off West Columbia.
The city says it hears concern from residents around the issue of saturation of housing in certain neighbourhoods and corridors and is acting. Helgason said the city is working on a memorandum of understanding with BC Housing, which will include potential future projects and also ensure the city has a seat at the table when it comes to decisions around where social housing is located. If property is appropriately zoned, the city effectively has no say.
“I think one of the most important points about this updated MOU will be ensuring ensuring that we have that voice at the table, prior to any social housing going forward because, in the past, if something is already appropriately zoned for the usage and, if they found a housing provider, the only thing that says BC Housing has to talk to us at all is good will, essentially,” Helgason said.
“We just want to formalize that and make sure that we can avoid ever concentrating a large amount of housing in one area or putting the wrong type of housing beside each other or anything like that. Good planning and we want to be engaged.”
Coun. Sadie Hunter suggested increased security in problem areas. However, Helgason said social agencies cannot foot the cost and the money would need to come from BC Housing.
Meanwhile, council heard the city is worried negative discussion around the small number of higher acuity individuals will lead to negative categorization of social housing as a whole, with other people — such as women and children fleeing violence, seniors and the disabled — continuing to face significant need in Kamloops.
Helgason said once people are assessed in the shelter system, they don’t have anywhere to go. Coun. Mike O’Reilly noted Kamloops is falling behind other communities when it comes to social housing for seniors and people with disabilities.
“All of our social housing is right full, all of the time, and we have a wait list of over 150 people waiting for units,” Helgason said.
Some local success stories cited by Helgason include the storage facility on West Victoria Street and Mission Flats Manor.
About those rumours
The city has heard time and time again that ASK Wellness ships people into the city. The city dispelled that myth on Tuesday, telling council no agency — including bylaws and the Kamloops RCMP — has ever suggested or confirmed such a rumour.
“There is no such thing as homeless tourism,” Mayor Ken Christian reiterated.
However, one bus does come to Kamloops to drop off people.
Helgason said Vision Quest, an abstinence-based residential treatment facility in Logan Lake, has been dropping discharged clientele off at the Emerald Centre shelter on West Victoria Street.
West Victoria is an area that has experienced significant criminal and nuisance behaviour, with businesses having previously spoken to KTW about safety concerns and property crime in the area.
A delegation from Vision Quest recently appeared before council and was followed by a city visit to the facility. Helgason said the organization has been asked to avoid whenever possible dropping discharged clients in Kamloops.
Meanwhile, Helgason noted people on the streets of Kamloops are from the city and, regardless of where they come from, need help.