Saturday, August 30, 2008

Social issues high on the minds of City Council

With a fishing season that hasn't provided much in the way of work for local fish plant workers, City Council was left to ponder how all that may play out in the fall and winter of this year. With many workers expected to be left unable to qualify for unemployment insurance, many will likely require assistance from welfare.

With that as their narrative, Council discussed the various social issues that may be more prominent this fall and winter.

The Daily News had details of the issue in their August 21 edition.

Homelessness needs addressing
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Pages one and three

Prince Rupert City Council has deemed homelessness in the city a priority topic of discussion when city representatives travel to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities next month, as reported in Wednesday’ edition of the Daily News.

This is a decision that local homelessness coordinator Alex Weir is pleased to hear.

As Community Homelessness Coordinator with the North Coast Transition Society since early 2008, Weir has been tasked with helping in the establishment of an emergency shelter in Prince Rupert before Spring of 2009.

The local Aboriginal Steering Committee on Homelessness, chaired by Marilyn Bryant, encouraged the Transition Society to recruit someone to coordinate this implementation phase, after it was concluded in the March 2007 community homelessness report- headed by City of Prince Rupert Director of Recreation and Community Services Michael Curnes. – that an emergency shelter was necessary to address the growing problem.

Weir’s position supports local organizations in achieving the goals of past community efforts, identifying an organization that will oversee the development of the emergency shelter, scheduling events and activities surrounding homelessness and producing appropriate reports.

“As this project on homelessness not only here in B. C. has been moving forward, there have been a lot of other exciting things that have come along,” said Weir.

“Various support issues for homeless people have been raised, such as a report by a Vancouver Police Detective titled ‘Lost in Translation,’ which talks about how the mental health system in that city is broken. Although it’s referring to Vancouver, that report gives us a springboard to move forward with the similar problems and challenges faced by the “hidden homeless” here in Prince Rupert.

Since Weir began his work in the city he has helped organize the Homelessness Action Committee, comprised of the leaders of the five organizations most involved in providing shelter and support for transitional people in the community. The group includes the Gary Sheils of the Salvation Army Corps, Farley Stewart of the Friendship House, Christine White of the North Coast Transition Society, Mary Clattenberg of the Community Enrichment Society and Joe Viscount of Fairview Management Services.

In addition to forming an action committee, a Homelessness Advisory Committee comprised of roughly 40 individuals has also been established, with experience in fields such as mental health and family services.

“The purpose of the committees is to make sure the significant stakeholders who are providing not only shelter but services to assist the homeless are all getting an opportunity for input,” said Weir.

“I’m not a leader in this. I’m just a frontline coordinator giving all the people with a burning desire to assist homeless people a chance, and to assist the Homelessness Action Committee with its movement forward to gain funds for the emergency shelter and efforts toward increasing the amount of affordable housing.”

Weir applauded city council for recognizing the issue as one of the most prominent for the community, and said the decrease in affordable housing combined with increasing homeless numbers is cause for alarm.

He also pointed to the ‘hidden homeless’ as a major concern for the community, meaning those people who remain on the verge of becoming homeless, because most statistics collected on homelessness fail to account for that growing sector of society.

“There are people who are chronically in the streets, who would probably be there even if there were accommodations available,” said Weir. But there are certainly some on the streets who simply can’t find affordable housing at all.

“It’s becoming an emerging issue even for rich Alberta, where people are getting jobs but are living in a park. We’re also seeing homes with many different generations of people cramped in one home, and a number of people who receive welfare that are forced to live in cramped living conditions, as the amount of money in the welfare system for accommodations doesn’t match the available rental prices.”

The Homelessness Action and Advisory Committees are anxiously awaiting a call for proposals from B. C. Housing for a new stand alone shelter. So far both the Salvation Army and Transition Society are prepared to submit proposals to operate an emergency shelter, which the Action Committee has determined should serve men, women and families deemed to be homeless.

Also positive is the recent provincial government announcement proclaiming the week of October 12 to 19 Homeless Action Week, for which Weir is currently planning local activities and events.

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