Chilliwack – On Wednesday night, various agencies sat down with over 120 people at Evergreen Hall in Chilliwack, to vent the issue of homelessness on the streets.
All were in agreement that something had to be done, but nothing new was presented.
City officials, Fraser Health, BC Housing, the Chilliwack School District, Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce and the RCMP were all represented. They all praised the services that are available in Chilliwack, now on the fast track to to reach the magic mark of a City of 100,000 and the challenges that go with it (The City and area of Chilliwack is hovering around 92,000).
There are faith based homeless shelters in place through the Salvation Army, Ruth and Naomi’s and Cyrus Centre as well as the two recent provincially funded housing projects that are still two years out.
But there was nothing new to alleviate the problem that is happening now on the mean streets.
The tent camp on Empress Lane was dismantled, only to resurrect underneath the Downtown Yale Road railway overpass. The City is going to court to remove that camp.
But again, nothing new, no new ideas and these homeless will simply move along.
In fact the drone of re-reading the grocery list of current services started a trickle of attendees to trickle out of the meeting, just one hour into it.
MP Mark Strahl send a message via video, but no new money nor initiatives were laid out.
Councilor Jason Lum, who is one of the young faces on council and the new Chair of the FVRD was noticeably absent. This reporter was hoping for some fresh out of the box thinking.
With the obvious talk was on mental illness and drug addiction, the sticky point of actual housing, let alone some form of employment for those able to work was not really addressed. The crowd of mostly over 40 types had a few noses put out when RCMP Superintendent Deanne Burleigh quoted the Canadian Charter of Rights stating that everyone had the Right to Shelter, but just being homeless was not illegal. You can be arrested for stolen property, assault, major crimes or drug trafficking, but if you are just homeless, sorry, you can not be arrested. That seemed to disappoint a few in the audience. (For the record the City on average, picks up some 300 discarded needles on a weekly basis).
Again, no new plans of action were presented.
Chilliwack does not have any major treatment facilities within its borders although there was no mention of the half way houses that do exist, literally under the radar, in Teskey Road and the Women’s Halfway house on Nowell at First. But those center on alcoholism and addiction and not specifically the homeless. It is a standard 3-6 week waiting period to get into treatment facilities in Abbotsford or Surrey.
Near the end of the two hour marathon, the magic word called TRUST was mentioned. Most homeless just don’t trust any official, no matter what their stripes. If you actually talk to and listen to the stories from the homeless, they have literally been tormented and tortured (in their own way) to the point where they don’t believe anyone cares about them. Considering the way the homeless are typecast by many, it’s no wonder that a NIMBY (Not in my back yard) attitude is blatant. Let’s help the homeless, but not in my park, neighbourhood or with my money. Gawd forbid anyone give them a job to help with basic self-respect. (Yes there are those who want to live off the grid, and those people will always be around).
It was suggested that you don’t give the homeless any money or food at all and they should have to go to the services provided. Did we mention TRUST?
Trailer Housing was brought up and in particular, a program that seems to be working in Portland, Oregon called Dignity Village. Remember Portland is a city of 3.1 Million and has the resources. Chilliwack has 92,000 and Canadian resources do not compare to American programs in gross volume of services and cash. The representative from BC Housing put the kibosh on that idea. There is also the recent trend to small portable houses. In Chilliwack, there are a few, but city bylaws have thrown a bucket of cold water on that, as those mini homes on wheels are still deemed as RV’s and have their own set of rules.
Kudos must go to Mayor Sharon Gaetz, who at the end of the grocery list did call for a little compassion. That really didn’t sit well with some of the oldies in the crowd. She also noted that when she was still a City Councillor, it was in 2005 when the powers that be realized there was a growing problem. You may note that that was 3 years before the market crash of 2008.
So what have we accomplished with this exercise?
Outside of that, nothing new.