Tag Archives: homeless

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.

 

City Council Meetings Jan 15, 2018

The first city council meeting day of 2018 was a busy one indeed. They had the Committee Of The Whole in the morning, a Budget Overview public meeting in the afternoon, in-camera meetings, and the regular meeting in the evening.

The gallery was overflowing into the hall for the Committee Of The Whole at 9AM. The major draw was, of course, the discussion surrounding a motion, by Councilor Ross,  to extend the exit deadline imposed on Whispers Of Hope.

The non-perfunctory topics of this meeting were: (links take you to YouTube)

Live Stream

This meeting also saw a return to Live Streaming. This first day back live wasn’t without troubles. The audio was initially slightly garbled but improved quite a bit. Until it got bad again and then worse and then I checked and found that the batteries powering the device (zoom H2) I was using to pick up the sound had run out of power. This was fixed with a quick AC/DC converter purchase. But then when the equipment was reconnected before the evening meeting the software couldn’t see the camera it had been using all morning and afternoon. By the time a replacement was attached and device drivers updated it was 7 or 8 minutes into the meeting.

Even with these problems the topic drew viewers. Hundreds of views happened and at one time there were 50 simultaneous watchers. With this being an election year we hope to live cast every meeting in addition to making them view-able here on the web and on Shaw Cable TV. (the live webcasts of these meetings ended up on my personal youtube channel instead of the gftvca channel – to those who subscribed during the stream thinking you might see more of the same in the future I invite you to subscribe to the correct channel, the one the links above on this page point at)

Evening (Regular) Meeting

The actual decision on what to do with Whispers Of Hope wasn’t made until the evening meeting. By the time they got around to discussing it their fatigue was showing.

For those not into the pie chart, these were the non perfunctory topics of the meeting:

 


The meetings in their entirety (the second one is the Budget Process overview – no pie for that one)


And for those interested the live streams appear below

Committee of the Whole comes in two parts

Funding request for coordination and implementation of Kettle River Watershed Mgmt. Plan Request to rescind the six month eviction notice for 7212 Riverside Drive Whispers of Hope Motions to vary the agenda of the evening meeting Vienna Woods - Granby Wilderness REGIONAL TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION - WITH AREA D Monthly Highlight Reports from Department Managers REPORTS, QUESTIONS AND INQUIRIES FROM MEMBERS OF COUNCIL 2017 Capital Project Carryover and Scope Change Outside Works Grand Forks RCMP Detachment Mayors Report - Quarterly Crime Statistics City of West Kelowna - Request for local governments to share in Cannabis Tax Revenue Grand Forks International Baseball Tournament Society - Special Occasion Liquor Licence Bylaw 1682 Exception - Recreational and Off Highway Vehicles Bylaw 1958-A3 - to amend Fees and Charges Bylaw No. 1958 Notice of motion by Councilor Ross regarding Whispers Of Hope BC Transit Discussion Questions From Public and Media

Building a Safe and Secure Grand Forks

There was a public meeting at Perley School Dec 14, 2017 at 6PM. As the poster shows it was titled “Building a Safe and Secure Grand Forks”.

Essentially the meeting was about the homeless and the problems that both they and the residents of the city face. Within the ranks of the homeless are people affected by mental health issues, substance abuse addictions, and poverty. And a small group of criminals engaged in property crime: trespass and theft.

The topic has fueled much rancorous discussion in both council chambers, the coffee shops of the town and online social networking.

The meeting was facilitated by 3 city councilors: Butler, Ross and Tripp (though most of council was present). A panel of speakers from various agencies involved in this spoke and answered questions. Representatives from Mental Health, the RCMP, Block Watch, and Citizens On Patrol faced a crowd of over 100 residents in a session that lasted 2 hours. People associated with Whispers of Hope and Boundary Emergency Temporary Housing and Shelter were also present in the audience.

City Council Meetings Sept 5, 2017

Council had two meetings on Tuesday, Sept 5, 2017.

In the Committee Of The Whole there were 3 delegations: Community Futures, The Phoenix Foundation and Grand Forks Search and Rescue. Look for the presentations. If yor\re unsure on what these organix=zations do then these shows

Council also considered new rules pointed at shelters being set up in parks or on public property. Pretty much targeting the homeless the rule says no temporary shelters allowed between 9AM and 7PM. Which sounds okay on first listen but if you give it a moment and think about who this rule is intended for then a few questions crop up like:

  • How would someone without a time keeping device know when it’s 9AM (or 7PM)? They are homeless and not as slaved to the clock as the rest of us.
  • If they miss that 9AM deadline and the city takes their shelter and stuff away then where can they pick it up? Because if that’s not already the case then some lawyer at some point will likely argue that the moment the city agents take possession of somebody’s worldly possessions the city has to hold onto them for a period of time. (and they’ll likely do it pro bono but the city’s our lawyers’ time in court fighting this would be paid by the us, the taxpayers) Has the city worked that part out?
    Hint: It might be more cost effective to just assume the city would be forced to hang onto the stuff and do that from the get go instead of incurring the 4 or 5 figure legal costs of learning it the hard way in court. (and the city would look nearly so heartless as it would if the stuff is trashed) If anybody on staff is reading this then look into that maybe and save us some money, eh?
  • I don’t know if this would be a big deal or not but: How would the city know the person that shows up to claim the stuff is the owner?
  • And if the person in question is a repeat offender then how will they be dealt with? They have no income so fines won’t be paid . . . the exercise will be fruitless. Not cost free though – anyone acting on behalf of the city or processing the file would be paid by us taxpayers.

In the Regular meeting (evening) the big issues of the night were:

  • whether the city would support the Fall Fair financially or not (look for that in the late item)
  • a dispute with a property owner / water customer over payment on the installation of a pit meter.
    This took up the largest part of the meeting with the discussion during the Information Items part of the meeting and later on the question period. Both times Councilor Butler recused herself from the discussion.
    In the agenda this item refers to two people twice and thereafter one of them exclusively. That one was present in the room and hoped to take part in the discussion council was having but the rules governing the regular meeting say a unanimous vote of council is required to allow that. Staff was asked what names appeared on the property title and when the answer came back that the person present was not named on the title they voted against allowing the visitor to speak. So they had to wait until question period.
    The decision did not go in the customer’s favour and neither did the discussion during question period. It got a bit heated.
  • The Permissive Tax Exemptions list of places and organizations applying for and being granted tax exemption. Interestingly the non-profit organizations include financials with their applications so if you’re curious to know how much money they have and how they spend / disburse it then that part of the agenda document would be interesting reading. Use the button above to fetch it from the city’s website.

The Committee Of The Whole

The Regular Meeting


 

Community Futures Phoenix Foundation of the Boundary Communities Grand Forks Search and Rescue Volunteer Appreciation Night 2017 and Policy #204 Update Monthly Highlight Reports from Department Managers Bylaw 1959-A1 Parks Access Bylaw Amendment Bylaw 1606-A6 Zoning Bylaw Amendment Grand Forks and District Fall Fair Minutes RDKB REPORT MIA Appointments of City Voting Delegates Scott Davis and Elizabeth Eastwood - Outstanding Charges Questions From Public and Media