Members of the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness had strong words to say about some of the Downtown Safety Committee recommendations made last week.
While many of the recommendations were applauded by the coalition members, the group did have some issues with a few of them as well as the premise of the report. The coalition will be writing a letter in response to the Downtown Safety Select Committee.
The Coalition received feedback from members that the plans to provide additional funding for the Get the Point program, to encourage more events downtown and to speed up approval of housing developments were all in the right direction. However, things like the recommendation to remove the stage covering at Spirit Point Square, to potentially ban shopping carts from certain areas of the downtown area and to prevent beach fires north of 1st avenue were all areas of concern.
“If this group doesn’t have a response to what appears to me to be a very mean-spirited directive at the homeless population, then who will?” said Valery Puetz, executive director of the Campbell River & North Island Transition Society. “I don’t know how we can be a homelessness coalition worried about the effects of homelessness on folks who live in our community and not respond to this in some fashion.”
“There is another way to think about the people that live in our community other than this mean-spirited and very dangerous direction that the committee is going… I’m horrified at the response that the safety committee has come up with,” agreed Mary Catherine Williams, executive director of Volunteer Campbell River.
“It shocks me that our community would have this kind of response. The people that live and hang out in the downtown core are not causing the kind of harm that is being reported, especially in the more recent months. It’s a lack of understanding and a lack of knowledge about what’s really happening and who the people are that need the supports that they need.”
Aside from specific recommendations, coalition members also spoke about the underlying premise of the report.
“There was a sentence in the report… the committee specifically said that they recognize that much of the ‘problem’ — and I have a difficult time with that word — is due to poverty, mental health issues and addiction,” said Sue Moen, part of the coalition leadership team. “Defining the vulnerable populations, our citizens, our neighbours as a ‘problem’ informed (many) of the recommendations… if we highlight that the things that are being done are working both to improve the lives of our vulnerable citizens and the improve the feeling of safety and security for the people that don’t get to know them, that would be a better focus.”
“This whole recommendation seems to be in the mode of driving people away. That’s not a workable solution,” Puetz added. “Homeless people who are hanging around downtown are looking for a quiet corner to hang out. They’ve been hanging out downtown because downtown is dead.”
“The sense of this is downtown is too good for those living in poverty and homelessness. If that’s the sentiment that is being portrayed, downtown is too good for me as well. I have no interest in doing any business downtown if that’s the kind of attitude that (is) circulating,” she added.
The coalition leadership will be taking the comments from the meeting and drafting a letter to send to the city.