The issue was raised at Tuesday night’s ZOOM Council meeting during a delegation that included Malachy Tohill, the Regional Director for BC Housing, and Melanie MacDonald, who is the Executive Director at Seasons House, which is Quesnel’s homeless shelter among other things.
Tohill says they are waiting to see what the impact the new supportive housing project on Elliott Street will have, as he says that and other housing projects may change the needs of a new shelter…
“How big would it need to be, how many beds do you need, what does it look like ? That still has to be determined because we’ll have to see what the outcome is. And the percentage and the number of individuals that would go from the shelter over to Bridges and be housed. How does that change the dynamics of the shelter or the size of the shelter ?”
The 28-unit Bridges Supportive Housing facility is scheduled to open in the fall.
Mayor Bob Simpson noted that the calls for service to the RCMP have dropped significantly since no visitor COVID restrictions were put in place at the shelter…
“So I do think as we look at what model we’re talking about relocating a shelter to, I think we need to do a bit of a debrief as to why we have these high calls of service, and then we get to this point because of COVID, we restrict public access and our calls for service drop significantly.”
MacDonald noted that that wasn’t the only reason for the decline in calls to the RCMP…
“It’s also the fact that we have social distancing spaces in the community, so we just don’t have the same number of individuals with really high needs cramped into one space, and that is something that we’ve been saying for a lot of years that we need more space, need more beds, and we need housing.”
A number of residents are being housed at the Grace Inn, something Tohill says has been extended until the end of September.
He didn’t rule it out as something else that could be done in coordination with a new shelter…
“If those numbers keep showing the low numbers of police response, I think we have to look at that, and that’s what it says when you put people into independent housing and get some supports for them, the difference it can make.”
Some common concerns with the current shelter were also raised last night.
Tanya Turner, the Director of Development Services, noted that a consultant who was brought in, that was quite experienced in shelters, wouldn’t even go into Seasons House because she felt it had safety and security issues just from a design perspective.
Turner said she feels the timeline to move the shelter needs to be moved up.
Mayor Simpson suggested that the location next to the Highway was also a major issue.
Councillor Martin Runge asked about curfews, something MacDonald said they weren’t permitted to do…
“People are free to come and go from the shelter just like they are anywhere else. What we do is we have a time, right now we’re closed to the public due to COVID, but we have a time that we do close our doors here at the shelter. For some individuals, it’s a really complex population that we work with, so some individuals it is really difficult to stop them going in and out at night, others it’s not. Some individuals we might say no more, you are being too disruptive and we will prevent them from coming in, if it’s not winter of course.”
Mayor Simpson asked about harm reduction and food and if there were any time limits for those services.
MacDonald says in normal times they send people to the hospital for harm reduction after hours, although she admits that some people refuse to go there and staff have handed them stuff out the door.
Right now, due to COVID, MacDonald says they are only doing outreach.
She says they don’t provide food after hours.
Councillor Mitch Vik relayed the concerns of downtown business owners…
“I certainly respect what you’re saying when you say that some individuals are very challenging but they’re not dangerous, but at some point we have to reconcile what some of the activities these individuals are doing, and we’re talking about this individual who is difficult to keep in doors during the night because this individual needs to be on the move, but at some point we have to reconcile that these individuals are causing harm to business owners in terms of petty crime or unearthing garbage bins, things like this.”
Vik asked at what point can we depend on the shelter to come up with some meaningful policies that can take a load off of businesses that continue to struggle with this issue again and again and again.
MacDonald says the best practices for stand alone shelters in small communities like Quesnel is to be as accessible as possible to the clients…
“When you have multiple shelters in a community, you can have different operating models. When you have one you try to keep your doors open to as many people as possible. And when we close our doors to people who are incredibly complex, who have extreme mental health, substance abuse issues or brain damage or developmental disabilities, whatever that looks like, all you are doing is closing the door on them, and often there aren’t other services available to them.”
Mayor Simpson wrapped up the delegations visit by noting that Council has an obligation to the city at large, which is why they are asking these questions…
“I would hope that respect would be given to the city, on social media and with respect to some of the advocates for the client group that you’ve spoken about. Our obligation goes across a wide spectrum and when we engage in a dialogue of any particular aspect of the community or its citizens, we have to do the balancing act of saying yes, but we also have to take into consideration these other things.”
Simpson says the city is all in on the housing front, and would like to see appropriate housing for all members of the community.