A Kamloops city councillor says a group in town providing day lodging to people on the street may be jeopardizing future help for the city’s vulnerable.
“My concern is that we’ll be able to help them [homeless] less,” Coun. Arjun Singh told KTW.
At Tuesday’s (June 1) council meeting, Singh weighed in on debate over The Loop in North Kamloops. The Loop, at the corner of Tranquille Road and MacKenzie Avenue, is a day lodge for the street-entrenched. Highly visible in an area being redeveloped, The Loop has drawn the ire of the business community and has elicited complaints about open drug use, overnight camping, violence, garbage and more. It has been designated a nuisance property by the City of Kamloops.
Singh expressed concern The Loop is not adequately resourced. He told KTW it is trying to be a full-service social agency, but is not staffed accordingly. Singh said issues with the group running The Loop date back up to six years and have come to a head.
Singh said that, while it is nothing personal against people operating The Loop, who he said are trying to do good work, concerns are “very, very large right now.” He said such concerns compromise social licence and inhibit future projects to help people on the street.
Singh said he has heard from social agency leaders who will not work with the group spearheading The Loop for that very reason.
“We try and put housing in a place, we try and put services in a place. We’re depending on the public and that means citizens, that means people in the residences, people in the businesses in the community to largely know those are run in a way which are respectful and good neighbours,” Singh told council on Tuesday. “And what I’m seeing, and unfortunately I’m seeing it repeatedly with this organization, is that that’s not happening in different iterations.”
Singh cited the Royal Social House, The Branch and The Loop as endeavours with significant problems.
Glenn Hilke said The Loop operates with 20 people — 10 paid staff and 10 regular volunteers — and has sufficient funding. He said it is “false” to say The Loop is under-resourced.
Hilke reiterated previous statements to KTW, stressing need for the day lodge. He said The Loop is the only real drop-in centre on the North Shore and that it is helping many people who are food insecure, providing three meals per day.
He invites city councillors to visit the centre and see what is happening on the ground because he believes a false narrative to be circulating.
“What is this about? This is not about incompetence, under-resourced, not well-managed.” Hilke said. “No. We all know what this is about. It’s about the optics of certain people in the community and they are in the minority, not wanting to see the fact that we have poverty in Kamloops, we have homelessness in Kamloops . . . ”
Singh told KTW that, as a longtime city councillor, he has dealt with the issue of homelessness and does not take lightly speaking publicly about the situation. He said it is important not to demonize the homeless, while simultaneously ensuring organizations helping the vulnerable act as good neighbours.
When that is not done, he said, work of organizations like the ASK Wellness Society, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the John Howard Society can be put in jeopardy.
“I’m kind of concerned that we’ll lose the ability to do as much as we’re doing now for folks that are vulnerable, if folks are taking this attitude that they’re not resourced enough to do the work they’re trying to do,” Singh told KTW.
He said he is worried about the summer, due to increased anxieties within the community during the pandemic, should negative activity not decrease. He wants to see the group adequately resourced and mitigating impacts it is having, while simultaneously helping people on the street.
“We’re doing everything,” Hilke said. “I’ve had some very positive conversations with representatives of the city since the nuisance status was put on us. I have hope for the first time in a few days that this will be worked out in a positive way.”
One change that has been implemented is asking people to leave or attend shelter when The Loop closes.
More on the nuisance property designation
The city’s community services director, Byron McCorkell, explained that The Loop is a non-profit agency operating on private property with federal funding, but without a board of directors.
For the most part, McCorkell said, the organization is doing a “fantastic” job. However, he noted the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the situation, leading to people who would otherwise be spending time inside of a building instead congregating outdoors and drawing the ire of the business community.
City staff spoke with the agency, he said, requesting litter and unsightliness be kept at bay.
McCorkell said the city began with a warning before the situation got to the point in which a nuisance property designation was applied.
“We still have lots of education opportunity if we see things change,” he said.