Doing nothing?

September 25, 2019
Council Column

As I noted last week, City Council has been forced to take steps to ensure our public spaces are safe for all our citizens. We have an obligation to protect public safety and sometimes that requires us to take measures we know some members of our community will not be happy

Take for example, the recent closure of the public washrooms located across from Ceal Tingley Park. Many members of the public are not happy we had to close those washrooms, neither is Council. But, we have an obligation to protect our City workers and the public from the toxic smoke drug users now create in these spaces.

While we’re taking every step possible to protect public safety, we’re also, contrary to the claims of some local harm reduction activists and academics, working collaboratively with health, housing, and social service agencies to improve the services provided in our community for  people struggling with mental health and substance abuse challenges.

For example, while activists keep saying the current homeless shelter is being “overwhelmed” they fail to mention that Council has worked with BC Housing and various not for profit agencies to attract an unprecedented investment in social and affordable housing in our community. When all the planned and approved facilities are built over the next two years, we
will see more investment in social housing in Quesnel, on a per capita basis, than the majority of BC communities.

Sixty-eight units of new affordable housing were made available for a variety of target groups with the opening of Silver Manor and Kikihnaw House (on MacLean Street). The Elliott Street project will create 32 new units of low barrier 24/7 supportive housing, more than double the currently funded shelter beds available at Seasons House, and another 27 units of high
barrier 24/7 supportive housing units will be built on Front Street. An additional 12 new units for women and children fleeing violence are also in the works.

The addition of these new 139 social housing units is a giant leap in the right direction for our community; but those opposed to our public safety measures consistently fail to mention these progressive steps when they claim Council is “doing nothing” to help people in need. In fact, most of these activists also know that Council has only begun to address our housing needs, as we’ve been working with them to develop a comprehensive North Cariboo Housing Strategy that will see us attract even more investment to address the full spectrum of housing needs in our community.

In addition to our efforts to address housing needs, Council has worked collaboratively with Northern Health and BC Housing on an initiative to improve services for people suffering with mental health and substance abuse challenges. Over the past three years a collaborative roundtable process, Community Caring for People with Addictions (CCPA), has developed
and begun to implement a series of initiatives aimed at improving mental health and addictions service delivery in Quesnel. The Executive Director of Seasons House sits on that committee, as do peers (individuals who have or are experiencing homelessness, mental health and substance abuse challenges).

The CCPA process has already made significant improvements to treatment and service delivery in Quesnel and we have initiatives underway to see even more investments and
improvements to these services.

Quesnel City Council is working hard, on all fronts, to engage with willing partners to address the complex social issues all communities now struggle with. Shaming and blaming Council
for the steps we must take to protect the public does not create a spirit of collaboration and does nothing to maintain the social license we need to continue to invest in housing and health services for people struggling with mental health and substance abuse challenges.

Mayor Bob Simpson

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