Category Archives: Editorial

Fight The System Effectively

NOTE: This has been updated (June 18) to include the video of the meeting.

The situation around the homeless in our small town has become a hotly contentious issue.

Even though we had a flood of historic proportions last year that has created major problems for home owners, businesses and the city in general this issue has come to take precedence. At least in the minds of the community that wants City Council to do something about it.

There is even a Facebook group that has swollen to hundreds of members in a short time. I know many people, with good intentions, and even some city councilors are members of this group.

They held a public town hall style meeting at Perley school a little while ago. You can watch that here.

Recently they held a rally outside city hall 15 minutes before the last city council meeting happened. This was ostensibly in support of council. And by and large apparently it was . . . but not everyone was as well behaved as the rest. This resulted in a loud commotion in the hall outside council chambers. This disturbance began before the meeting started and didn’t end until 20 minutes into the meeting. And that only after the police had been called and attended. You can hear them in the first 20 minutes of the city council meeting below. Around 3 to 4 minutes in it is quite evident. I will note that the microphone, which is fairly directional, was not even pointed in their direction.

After returning home from that meeting I posted to facebook about this. I pointed out that while this was supposed to be a rally in support of council it didn’t turn out that way. And seeing some of the commentary from that Facebook group in advance of the meeting . I will quote from my post below.

Well if that was supposed to be a rally in support of council I’m glad they didn’t have a rally to lambaste council.
Or was there a ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ hidden in the notice I didn’t pick up on? (no I really really don’t need an answer to that one)

I posted that and turned off the commenting. Which prompted questions. When I gave someone the gist of what happened they in turn posted . . . and then faced the wrath of some supporters of the group.

After finding the original posting about the rally I turned commenting on and shared that to the comments section. Which led me to face an onslaught all that evening and into the next day. It went from outright denial to saying I was BS’ing and exaggerating. Essentially calling me a liar without actually using the word.

And I added this as well:
This is how it was advertised in the C4 group.
Seeing the signs in the crowd and the RCMP having to be called and learning about some of the pre-event commentary in that group I’m not surprised now.

It was grueling.

First someone claimed it was ‘just one guy’. But it was a group and people in the council chambers could hear them. People listening on the live stream could hear them. At one point this group was chanting.

I was doing my job broadcasting and couldn’t get up and go to the door to see better so I could only report on what I saw and heard. Which included the cops being called.
That was denied. When someone stood up to point out that this was true they were then attacked. Having them point out that not just one but two staffers had called the cops did nothing to ameliorate the situation – it only appeared to fan the passion of the people behaving like trolls.

What I hadn’t included in my original post was some of the comments I found associated with the rally posting on that group. I shall share those below.

Don’t like whats going on, then get your butts down here on Monday, I’m going to suggest a little earlier than 645 case they try to sneak in early.
AND
ALL the doors need manning. I’m sure there’s more than one entrance.
AND
I wouldn’t put it past the snakes
AND
Pretty sad when they try to pull the wool over our eyes
AND
“… they can give Mr. T a lesson or two on sneaky and bullying!!! Wasn’t till we threatened to bring in lawyers did they back down, …”

Seeing those comments and my experience of being in council chambers while the disturbance was going on outside the doors I suggest that my remarks were informed by the information and experience I had. How could it be otherwise?

I later found out from others that initially it was one woman who would not be silenced for quite a while and after she’d given up she was followed by ‘some guy’ who wouldn’t quit until the police talked to him. Why the chanting happened I don’t know. Why the disrespect for council took place for 20 minutes after a rally ‘in support of council’ I cannot say either. Though when you’re involved in a group that holds a public rally or protest and people show up and misbehave it’s your group that gets the blame.

I do not hide the fact that I do not share the same thinking as the group does.

In posts on that group I see people complaining that without all 4 pillars we should not accept any single pillars. That supportive housing without the rest of the complementary support systems should be rejected. I’m no Internet Expert on Housing First or 4 Pillars the way some in that group have said they are. I will freely admit that.

Someone shared a post that was made by one of the group’s admins to another group in BC what has been fighting against BC Housing. At the end of that post they write “We need to start banding together provincially to take down BCH!”

I won’t go into what I think is wrong with that but I will say it would be a fruitless and expensive exercise. I’ve seen and heard people say that the city should take BCH to court. As if we did not have enough expenses on our plate with the flood and all that entails. BCH is a Crown Corporation. It’s power flows from a higher source than city council’s.

I do have a suggestion though . . . you can see that below.

I also have to point out once again that I am a Volunteer. No One pays me for most of what I do in the community – most of the time all they have to do is ask. On occaision I will be hired but when that happens they tell me that up front. And often wait an unreasonable amount of time for me to actually bill them. It’s frustrating for them.

But I’m a volunteer first. Because our small town shouldn’t have to pay for what would be expensive services if they don’t need to. If I can help out.

Another reason I no longer take money from city hall is because I want it clear in everyone’s head that I do not work for city hall, I work for the community. Partly in the hope that when people are passionately fighting about things I won’t get mistakenly wounded in the cross fire.

But that was stupid of me to think that way. If you take a side you become a target. And even if you have truth on your side the Trolls don’t care.

This past week has been one of the most stressful in my 13 years covering council. Even during the water meter controversy it wasn’t this bad. I’ve struggled with how to respond. I’ve struggled against a looming desire to stop doing everything and tell the whole town to stuff it. And I’ve struggled against that part of me that yearns to join the fight and make them pay – that part scares me.

If it wasn’t for the words of support of others. If the DBA hadn’t reached out to ask me to record two whole morning presentations. If that hadn’t kept me busy every single day this week (so much so that city council is way on the back burner). Without that I might have stewed away until I gave it all up and what the new reporter at the Gazette worried about in his editorial would come to pass – Les wouldn’t be there to broadcast council. Because it takes hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours of work to provide this one ‘free service’ but for the trolls it only takes a couple of minutes of concentrated venom-laced invective and accusations spread over hours to make it all go away.

Here’s my freely made suggestion for All the groups in BC that want to get the system fixed and the have the supports badly needed in our communities properly funded and implemented.

A Possible Venue

Over the last decade the number of venues available for events has shrunk.

  • The Wildlife Hall at the top of 2nd is now a church.
  • Studio B was around for a while and then the Gazette moved back there.
  • The Senior’s Centre in City Park is out of commission for the foreseeable future.
  • There are 2 less hotels downtown thanks to arson.
  • There is a dance hall in the Davis Block but it hasn’t seen a dance seen the 50s or 60s.
  • The Scout Hall isn’t used for much beyond scouting meetings.
  • We have no Community Centre.

A few years back I was involved in a co-op effort to purchase and operate the Gem theatre. The idea was to preserve some succession of a community entertainment resource. So that it wouldn’t come to an end when the owners retired. For various reasons that never came to pass and even though the place got damaged in the flood the Paquettes, bless them, are forging ahead with repairs so the theatre likely isn’t going away anytime soon.

Now there’s another community entertainment resource in danger of going away – the Bowling Alley. It was flooded just like all the other businesses in that area. Unfortunately the owners cannot afford the restoration . . .

When you look at that big Quonset-style building forget for a moment that it is a bowling alley.
Instead imagine what a venue it could be if it were gutted and redone inside.
It’s right downtown. It’s fairly spacious. A single large space with a high ceiling.

What could we put on in there?

  • Dances? Music concerts? Sure . . . but what else?
  • Imagine a double row of gaming tournament stations running down the centre aisle with screens projected onto the curved ceilings.
  • Imagine drone racing.
  • Imagine something, anything that you could do indoors in a space that large.

What’s the catch?

It got flooded. As far as I know the furnace and any other equipment in the basement was trashed so it’s cold hulk.

It likely needs to be gutted seeing as it’s been closed up since the flood.

How much would that cost? I’ll admit I do not know the answer to that.

Is there Asbestos remediation needing to be done? I don’t have the answer to that though, given other places experiences, I’d imagine there’s some in there somewhere. So that would add to any renovation costs.

What shape is the roof in? The foundation? I don’t have those answers either.

What I do have is an idea.

The town doesn’t have a Community Centre . . . or any real venue of any size downtown. I have an idea.

I Will Gladly Take The Blame

This past week has seen local social media in a tizzy over the announcement by BC Housing that they are going to create a facility for the homeless on the site of the old Grand Forks Hotel.

It appears the two main issues getting most discussion are: Why there? and Who (locally) brought them here?

Let’s address those right now.

Why there?

First – the site is located downtown where most of the homeless are located. I know a lot of people would apparently rather see it somewhere else. A site out of sight. Some have even suggested Broad Acres which is kilometers out of town in the bottom of the valley. Which might sound good to those who don’t want them around at all but won’t work because they would never get out there on their own and wouldn’t want to stay out there because there’s nothing there beyond the facility. So putting it out there would be fruitless . . . something I think even those suggesting that know.

Nope – if you’re going to serve a population, especially one with limited mobility like the homeless, then your services need to be located where they are. And that’s downtown.

Second – the old GF Hotel site is large enough for a facility housing multiple units. We don’t have one or two homeless people, we had over a dozen before the flood . . . expect more to crop up because of the flood.

Third – it was up for sale. And zoned correctly for this purpose.

But why there? Right in our faces? Right at the gateway to the city where the tourists will see it?

Last item first – the tourists.

If the homeless were an aberration that very few places had then actually having some would put our town in a subset of places that were different. Poorer. Embarrassingly so. And wanting to hide that from the visitors might make sense. But they aren’t rare – almost every city has them. Even the town that is the home of the royal family of England, our ‘head of state’, has homeless sleeping rough on the street.

Even if the facility wasn’t there the homeless will still hangout in public spaces like Gyro Park which is right next to the highway and across from where the Timmies will be located. And I don’t think we could pass a bylaw, and enforceable one, that would prevent them from hanging out in public spaces.

There’s another reason I like and it has to do with human psychology.

What do City Hall, homeless service locations and cat litter boxes have in common? Simple human psychology.

You get a cat.
Never having had a cat before you place the litter box somewhere out of view where you don’t have to see it all the time.
But eventually you can smell it and find it’s become a stinking mess because out of sight is out of mind for most people. The trick is to put it in or near well traveled areas so it’s never out of sight. That way you can’t ignore it and are less likely to let it get to the point of being a stinking mess.

We elect a group of individuals (via a popularity contest) to sit on city council. Then we assume they will do what they said so we turn our backs on them and pay them no attention . . . until somebody points out to us that they are doing something we don’t want – that council has become a mess we should do something about.

By ignoring them and denying them the feedback they need it’s easy for them to wander down some avenue of change the citizens are unaware of and might not like. Not paying attention until it’s impossible to ignore we are caught unawares and unpleasantly surprised when they do something objectionable. Like the universal water meters which had been in the works for well over a decade and talked about for at least two years before locals rose up in arms against it.

Similarly non-profit run facilities like Whispers and BETHs left to struggle to operate without attention being paid to them by city hall and the citizenry is a recipe for a stinking mess. They were in a city owned building but did the city establish an ongoing model of interaction so that they and their ‘tennant’ could have a mutually supportive relationship? No – the city pretty much ignored them until everyone wanted them gone and then they conducted inspection visits where they conveniently found enough code violations and other problems that they could say it had to be torn down.

What other landlord lets it get that far down the road to ruin?

Simple human psychology leads us to spend time setting them up and then turning our backs on them. And ignoring them until they become a stinking mess that offends us.  And then we’re all emotional and looking for simple solutions to problems we’ve created for ourselves.

Much questioning and finger pointing has gone on to try and figure out what local group was involved. BC Housing isn’t saying. City Hall is saying no one consulted us – BC housing only came and asked us what the zoning for that property was.

Why would BC Housing do that? Not include local government in the project?

Let’s look at the recent history of city council and BC Housing and the homeless here in Grand Forks.

Last year the homeless issue came to a boil. The camps along the river bank near Whispers of Hope had become a regular scab on social media that we just could not stop picking. Homeless people were setting camp fires in the bush to keep warm at a time where the whole province was in a state of emergency due to wildfires. And that freaked people out.

So the very upset citizens got on city council’s case and city council struck a task force to explore the problems and find solutions. But then in a Jekyll / Hyde moment the city decided to evict Whispers from their property also. Before the task force had even gotten underway.

When you’re looking in from the outside it’s pretty clear how the city deals with homeless people. Not nicely.

A while later we saw the residents of Brycen Place come down to city hall to plead with city council to do something to stop the project happening right in their backyard. A Women’s Transition house being constructed by BC Housing. Not for homeless people but for women transitioning out of their previous living situations to self sufficiency.

Even though the residents weren’t going to be homeless the neighbours still didn’t want them there. No In My Back Yard please. They were reasonable in there arguments with city council for the most part.

But City Council couldn’t help them because it was a private sale to an entity, BC Housing, that council could not evict, cajole, order or control. And the zoning was the only thing council had any say over.

I swear I cold almost see a hint of smile and hear a sigh of relief with some councilors as they sat back and said it’s not under our control – we cannot help you.

Later when BC Housing came to council to ask for some financial relief for things like inspection fees council said no, we want you to pay for everything. There’s no help, no financial relief here for you.

Recently when Whispers asked for a location for their mobile food cooking and serving trailer they were given the cold shoulder in council. No room at the inn for you guys because of the druggies you serve is the take away message sent.

Put yourself in the place of BC Housing.

You plan on doing something in Grand Forks to help the homeless situation. You are looking at Grand Forks and you see the way council bends to the will of the loudest and angriest nimbys in the town. That council will go so far as to literally destroy its own property to spite the efforts of those delivering the help the homeless need.

Why would you put consider allowing them to have any influence over your project?

Look at the angry voices on social media. There’s even talk of a petition to stop this project in its tracks. As if the angry part of the town wants to have total say in how to deliver support to the homeless which they don’t want here in the first place.

Would you allow them into the meeting room to ‘help’ you figure out how to help the homeless?

Finally let’s address the question of who is to blame for bringing them here.

Depsite all the investigation and questioning and finger pointing nobody has been identified. No one person or group has stood up and said it’s me. It’s us.

Well if you really need to blame someone then blame me.

Really, blame me.

I asked. No I’m not kidding. I really did reach out to BC Housing in July a year ago.

On July 17 in a long discussion in the Committee Of The Whole on these topics, especially the homeless setting campfires during the state of emergency, I sat at the back of the room (where I always am) and got an idea. And that led me to get out my phone, look up BC Housing’s website, find the contact page and send them an email which I will reproduce below.

Essentially I was asking for help. I was asking for them to allow the winter weather shelter to be opened during smoke / wildfire emergencies so the homeless could have place to shelter at night and not burn the whole town down.

I cannot say for sure that the real reason they are doing this new project is down to my email but I’m willing to stand up and say blame me. I’m not running for council so I couldn’t care a bit if I lose votes over this . . .

I do care that the homeless do not fall through the cracks so far that our town resorts to inhuman acts to rid itself of its most vulnerable.

Not all the homeless are crazy people. Not all the homeless are ‘thieving drug monkeys’ as some call them. They are homeless.

If you’re one of those who bitch and complain about them and are worried this new facility will become a stinking mess and eye sore then you have choices. You could go down and make city council’s life miserable but that won’t help because it’s out of their control. You could go on social media and complain there but that’s just going to enflame arguments and make the rest of us ignore your angry bleating. you could stand across the street and protest and make angry faces at them but that’s just going to make the tourists see just what kind of small minded town this can be.

Or you could go over to the facility and say something like: I’m concerned this will become a sinking messy blot on my town’s downtown. Is there any way I can help you keep it from turning into that?

Here is that email.

I am local media in Grand Forks. I am sitting in a City Council meeting where the topic of homeless people camping in the nearby bush are creating a possible fire hazard in this time of increased likelihood of wildfire. The province is in a state of emergency but no one appears to be able to resolve this problem. Fire department can only put out fires and ticket but these people have no address or ability to pay. RCMP do not arrest anyone because a lot of this comes down to mental health issues.

Aside from the potential for our town burning to the ground there is also the potential for vigilante violence against these people.

Part of the provincial efforts to deal with homelessness has to do with extreme weather shelters. But these are intended for winter only as far as I understand things.

I would strongly suggest that extreme wildfire situations such as we have right now should also be considered as worthy of opening these facilities.

I’m directing this email to this address because I don’t know which email address might be the correct one. In the hope that someone at your end might get this to the proper office’s attention because this is an emerging emergency situation and I am confident our community is not alone in facing this.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

And I’ve heard at least one councilor say that city council knew nothing of this BC Housing project. Maybe that’s true but this email was CCed to the Mayor.

 

DFA may not be there for some

With the recent flooding disaster in Grand Forks many are getting what they think is the worst possible news: Their Insurance won’t cover them for flood.

It could get worse for them because they might not qualify for Disaster Financial Assistance either.

As explained in this CBC article it turns out that if you were offered Flood Insurance and you declined then you do not qualify for DFA. In the article the spokesperson for the industry says the cost amounts to about a cup of coffee a day. We will look into that but from the small canvas of business owners that actually have that insurance it’s clear that the deductibles are far more costly than a cup of coffee a day. They are all in the 5 figures ranging from $25,000 on up

This is from an insurance change in the ‘recent past’. At one point no overland Flood Insurance was offered in Canada so almost everyone was DFA qualified. But a few years ago the industry began offering it and that pushed people into a bind.

We will be looking into this further to determine the particulars of this. Specifically are Insurance Brokers obligated to tell you that if you turn down the Flood Insurance they offer and you do suffer a flood, such as we have, you will not get DFA and likely lose everything?

Did the Insurance Industry look upon this as a profit centre knowing that their insurance and deductible would be extremely expensive but pretty much mandatory for people like us in Grand Forks where a large part of the town is in a flood plain?

Stay tuned as we find out more.

If you would like to know about how this kind of problem has evolved south of is in the USA please watch the PBS Frontline documentary The Business of Disaster. It may be about the USA but it’s an eye opening education on floods, insurance and governments.