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.


11 thoughts on “I Will Gladly Take The Blame

  1. Tammy Battersby

    I am a big fan of truth…Thank you.

    “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?”

  2. Christine S

    I seriously have so much respect for you Tammy! Thank you so much for bringing transparency to the decisions made by those who have sat on council, specifically in making decisions around the homelessness issue. I have witnessed this bully mentality and “holier-than-thous” making decisions for the future of Grand Forks and its citizens for far too long and am grateful that BC Housing stepped up to bat in their endeavour to bring solutions. I completely understand why council was not approached for this initiative and am willing to stand along side you and like-minded persons/organizations in helping to meet the needs of our most vulnerable populations.

    So much Respect.

  3. Kelly

    Excellent article. I hope if this passes it doesn’t effect the surrounding businesses in a negative way. I’d like to see all those Brycen Place residents that pleaded with city hall to get out of they fancy upscale homes and go volunteer at the transition house, then they will see how much this is really needed in our community no matter where it would have been built. Lastly I wish I had visual powers to see the LIAR LIAR on councils forheads in regards to not knowing about BC Housing. Not many people like change, but change is a good thing to many.

    1. Alex

      The most important information is knowledge. I took the time to review a video of a Council meeting that took place at our City Hall. A resident in Brycen Place indicated that all adjoining neighbours supported a Women’s Transition House in Grand Forks. What the neighbouring residents questioned was the Zoning Bylaws for the proposed build. The build for the Women’s Shelter DID NOT comply in a R3-Multi-Family Zone. The R-3 Multi-Family piece of land was owned by BC Housing. Zoning Bylaws are readily available on the GF City’s webpage to educated yourself. The City allowed the build, indicating it was the “best fit and the spirit of the Bylaws”. Residents asked the Mayor/Councilors to ask BC Housing to re-zone the land to accommodate the type of proposed build. Zoning Bylaws are put in place for a purpose.

      I too hope the Homeless shelter will not impact the businesses downtown or any residence. Let us not judge anyone that ask questions or have concerns, it’s doing their due diligence. The City (Mayor/Councilors) should ensure that no business or residential areas are impacted in any negative way by any project from BC Housing. All parties should work together to find a resolve for all people.
      Many of the people that live in Brycen Place and the surrounding area have volunteered greatly for their community including nonprofit organizations. I can state this as I know many of them. For the re-mark in regards to the “fancy upscale homes”, would it surprise you that some of those homes are 25 years old? Let’s not fault those that take pride in ownership. Never judge a book by its cover! Get the facts and be less judgmental yourself!

      1. gftvboss Post author

        Thank you for your contribution.
        I’ve spent some time talking about this with residents of Brycen Place and some of those involved with the Transition House project.
        And I think it would be safe to say that those in Brycen Place do not have a fear of the women who would be temporarily housed but a rational fear of the irrational behaviour of those whom those women are fleeing. Certainly they did not get the kind of community engagement process they expected and deserved. Neither did the businesses and residents of downtown.
        In the past the location of these shelters was secret but now they are not.
        Was the location of this one was highly publicized thanks to a politician (our MLA) wanting a photo-op the summer before the spring election?
        That might be wrong but that’s the opinion of some of the people I’ve talked to who were involved in the project.
        I plan on doing more interviews to get a better history of how we got to this.

        Both the Transition House and the Supportive Housing project have seen a of locals finding themselves cast as Nimby’s through no fault of their own.
        In both cases BC Housing is a player on the stage. The one responsible for ‘that project’ taking place at ‘that location’.
        It would be easy to see how many would blame BC Housing for the ‘problem’.
        But that’s not the whole story. BC Housing got to the ‘play’ late in the game.
        They took the actions they did because of a failure of local government to successfully find local solutions to local problems.
        I’m given to understand that The Transition House in its current location was not in the short list of places that the Women’s Coalition initially looked at.
        All the earlier choices were ones that the City declined, thwarted, or frustrated, for reasons I have yet to find out.
        Similarly the homeless support system that was in place was shut down by decision of council. And asks for assistance by Whispers of Hope have met with resistance and No’s.
        It would appear that while the City gives lip service to the ideas of these needed services they are unwilling or unable to translate that into action.
        The last 4 years this council has been in place have not been successful ones when you look at what they have achieved with regard to the social service aspect of the community.
        Whether this is because they cannot make it happen or are afraid of upsetting taxpaying voter nimbys is immaterial to result: BC Housing needed to step in.

        As I said to the Mayor in the question period of the meeting on the 24th of September, if you were BC Housing and saw the way city council has dealt with non-profit groups that try to help those in need why would you enlist their help? Or give them a seat at the decision table where all they will likely do is vote nay to every choice?

        Some may think that government is there to please everyone and piss off no one. That is unrealistic.
        Sometimes tough choices and decisions need to be made and if city council cannot, or is unwilling to, make those decisions then should we be surprised when that power is removed from their hands?
        Once again, thanks for your reasonable thoughts and words Alex.

  4. Lorraine Dick

    I stand with you Les and take the blame… who else is willing to take the blame with us…
    Les this was a well written, well thought out description of this whole sordid history.

  5. Teresa Thomson

    I couldn’t agree more with what has been said. Thank goodness BC Housing is able to step up to the plate. The division within the community is really sad. There is room for everyone.

  6. Peter Matheson

    Excellent article Les, thank you. It should be required reading for residents and businesses in Grand Forks so that the uninformed, false and divisive rhetoric could at least be based on reality rather than magical thinking.

  7. Bob

    Yes put it to the man who cares about the women and children that are afraid to use the public bathrooms or play in the park for fear of getting stuck with a dirty needle, let’s give the people that don’t want to work a place to stay and free food why work when we will supply everything you need. Now if you need to show a 2 month paystub to live there showing you down in hard times but trying to move ahead and better yourself sure it might work but hand outs never work, you say blame me and we will when theft goes up even more, kids get stuck with dirty needles, and even more people hanging out down town, go for a nice want down town….ya maybe not. You say not are all bad people true not all starving dog will bite but do you take the chance?

    1. gftvboss Post author

      I hear a lot of pain and frustration in your comment.
      The fact is ‘those people’ no one wants to be here are already here.
      Needles were already being left in public spaces.
      That was happening when I moved here back in 2004. Back then the disposal sites were home made but now there are sharps disposal sites in various places downtown. Because they are needed.
      You mention a 2 month paystub as some minimum requirement to entry. No stub, no entry.
      You don’t get a 2 month paystub unless you’ve worked for 2 months.
      Try holding down a job for 2 months if you don’t have a regular place to sleep. Or even finding one.
      These days most payroll is done by cheque or direct deposit. Meaning you need a bank account. Try getting one of those without a fixed address.
      It turns out your requirement for entry is actually a bar because if you’re on the street you’d be stuck on the street (with no job) unless you can find somebody to let you use their address and location as your living space and address. And in tis climate of fear and suspicion I cannot see that happening very much.
      You say things with descriptions like ‘never’. As in Handouts Never Work.
      That’s not only very skeptical but also very unrealistic.
      The attempts by those espousing stopping the BC Housing project will do nothing to make the homeless go away.
      If it were successful the net effect would be to chase away the only real support and chance to do something positive about it.
      Leaving the problem still in our laps.
      Desperate people do desperate things and what you suggest would leave them rather more desperate than help them out of the mess they are in.
      Within the mix of those who many label undesirables are people, humans, with one or more of 4 major problems.
      1 – some are homeless
      2 – some have mental health issues
      3 – some have drug addiction issues
      4 – some are criminals
      While all 4 things affect some of them not all are so afflicted. But to listen to you and a whole lot of people here all the homeless fit all 4 categories.
      But that’s not true is it?
      BC Housing is NOT in the business of running drug treatment centres though they may provide facilities where third party agencies do something like that.
      BC Housing is NOT in the business of running mental hospitals – that is the responsibility of Interior Health.
      BC Housing is NOT in the business of policing and jailing criminals. That is the responsibility of the RCMP.
      BC Housing IS in the business of providing housing, supportive housing. Calling their project anything else is disingenuous at best and an outright smear at worst.
      Expecting BC Housing to solve all 4 of the issues I listed above is ridiculous – unless your mission is to destroy the project.
      IF you have problems with the amount of druggies running around then get Interior Health’s, the RCMP’s and Crown prosecution service’s case – that is their mandate.
      IF you have problems with street people with mental health issues talk to the cops OR Interior Health.
      IF you have problems with the criminal element then go ask the RCMP why they cannot stop that shite from happening.
      A number of those involved in the petty crime that goes on ARE NOT HOMELESS.
      They are just criminals. They might be drug users as well. But they are criminals.
      IF you cannot get satisfaction from the police or government then maybe think about forming a chapter of the Guardian Angels rather than bitch and complain to people who cannot do anything about it.
      Sure the GA are a vigilante group – but they are a group with rules that try to stay on the right side of the law. If they weren’t then how could they have not only lasted for 39 years but also spread all over the world?
      But if all you really want (or are able) to do is sit back and complain about it, make unrealistic suggestions and point fingers of blame at everyone who wants to do something about it then that’s your right.
      Just don’t expect much sympathy or support from me in that endeavour.
      Take a good look at your friends.
      Some of those who lost everything in last spring’s flood may end up homeless.
      Will they stop being your friends then?
      Will they become objects of scorn and derision by people just like you?
      Very many people are just a job loss or disaster away from being homeless and jobless.
      Once you find yourself living rough on the street one of the first things you’ll notice is that when you sleep you are vulnerable.
      You don’t have walls and a locked door to keep the bad people away. All you worldly possessions are there for the taking.
      So how do you protect yourself?
      One of the ways to do that is to take Speed so you don’t need to sleep.
      Meth is speed. Welcome to your new stage of life as a homeless druggie.
      It’s one of the ways honest non-drug-using people change into druggies.
      Had a bad accident and now experience chronic pain?
      You might get a prescription for an opiod-based painkiller.
      That might lead you into an addiction you cannot control and after it takes you over, your life falls apart and you end up a drug addicted homeless person.
      And all your old friends will shun you.
      And everyone who might have become a friend before all this happened will look at you much the way you look at the homeless today: as a problem they wish would just go away. Or to jail.
      So you better hope that your future doesn’t see you ending up as a starving dog.
      They don’t like them in this town. You wouldn’t like being one.


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