A large local contingent turned out at Trail council on Aug. 15 to address concerns over BC Housing’s request for an extension of the La Nina shelter.
BC Housing advisors Rachel McGeachie and Tyler Baker addressed council asking for a three year renewal of a temporary use permit for the shelter.
Currently there are 18 shelter beds in Trail. The request for a temporary extension is so that BC Housing can have time to find a long-term permanent location for the shelter operation and affordable housing, explained Baker.
The rising homelessness population is due to a variety of factors systemic throughout the province, and more apparent in smaller communities such as Trail. Career Development Services (CDS) has identified 45 individuals, who are experiencing homelessness, and another dozen or so who require support or are precariously housed, indicating a much greater need than what the current shelter provides.
“At the La Nina Shelter, we have 18 beds and they are full every night with individuals coming to access somewhere to sleep and be safe in the community,” said CDS director Sheila Adcock.
The shelter provides a number of services, and CDS has mobilized an Outreach Team who engage the community seven days a week. The four-person team cleans up discarded needles, detritus and graffiti, connects individuals with local community services and programs and addresses residents’ and businesses’ concerns in the community.
The presentation highlighted health and wellness priorities, safety and security measures as well as its successes.
Coun. Sandy Santori countered that the process has been ongoing for years, and that the provincial government has not made housing for the most vulnerable a priority.
“I think it’s incumbent upon government and BC housing to ensure that our citizens are also safe and secure,” said Santori. “I don’t get a lot of calls from the public on a number of issues, but I’ve had more calls in the last 48 hours than I probably have had in the last four years expressing concerns.”
“I think BC Housing has failed our city, I honestly do. Especially if the prime concern is the costs, that is laughable…
“There are businesses that are going out of business and there are individuals losing their jobs because what is happening in the downtown core.”
Coun. Carol Dobie also supported Santori’s comments, adding that the supports such as security, food banks, cooling centres, physical and mental wellness, policing, grant funding etc. are provided by tax payers.
Recently, the province provided millions in supportive housing projects in Penticton, Nelson and Castlegar, but has done little for the Silver City despite recommendations, she added.
There was some confusion on how the permit would be applied, and if denied, how many beds would be available and if it would continue to be a year round shelter.
City staff clarified that if the motion was denied, staff would investigate other options, and a zoning bylaw for an emergency shelter would have to be addressed.
Mayor Lisa Pasin asked if council would have to rezone the shelter for the downtown core, in an area they are not in favour of?
“Throughout this four years we were unfailingly supportive of trying to help our community as a whole,” said Pasin. “Not just segment out the vulnerable persons, not just segment out the businesses, but taking the community as a whole approach to find a solution that is really often out of the control of this city council.
“We don’t have the funds, we don’t have the budget to buy and operate a supportive housing complex on an annual basis. We just don’t have that taxation base nor is it our responsibility.”
Mayor Pasin and Coun. Santori urged BC Housing to act and provide a location and building to accommodate supportive housing.
Several passionate residents, professionals, business owners and managers came forward during public input. They stated candidly their experiences with substance users, that drug addiction and mental health illness were the main concerns, and advocated for dedicated recovery services and action.
“I feel like we are being held hostage by these people and it’s just not fair,” said one business owner.
In response, addictions medicine practitioner Tammy McLean and Diana Daghofer from Trail Community Action Team spoke about substance use and a profoundly tainted drug supply.
“I am 100 per cent in favour of expansion of the shelter so we don’t have people dying,” said McLean. “Not everyone who is living at the shelter is addicted to drugs. Some have mental health issues completely unrelated to substance use.
“We have people who are unhoused and our seniors because of the low housing stock … so it isn’t just drugs, it isn’t just mental health.”
McLean explained the ramifications of a toxic drug supply, and the danger of dying during withdrawal from these substances without support.
“The folks that you see are really struggling with a health issue and not just a homelessness issue,” said McLean.
She suggested creating an overdose prevention site in Trail so people can avoid tainted drugs and secure a safe space, adding that the drug crisis saw over 2,000 people die in B.C. last year.
“Dead people do not recover, and so I am asking for some compassion from city council when you are thinking about this,” said McLean. “What does a human life cost, because we’ve been talking a lot about costs?”
Some council members were skeptical of BC Housing’s commitment to backing a supportive housing project in Greater Trail and balked at the idea of extending the shelter for another three-year term.
Following the public consultation, and further extensive discussion, council and staff ran into a question of procedure, with Coun. Robert Cacchioni recommending council seek legal advice.
Council unanimously voted to table the motion for a temporary extension pending clarification as to the city’s authority to impose conditions on the renewal of the permit that pertain to the city’s ability to revoke the permit if the conditions are not met in a timely manner.