Homelessness, Addiction Issues & Community Safety
Homelessness & drug addiction in our community has become more evident over the past several years. While there been a homeless issue in the Cowichan Valley for many years, it did not become so obvious until Warmland House was opened on Lewis Street, providing a focused meeting centre for those in need. Unfortunately, that means the neighbouring areas are directly, and detrimentally, affected. This has resulted in significant safety issues. But it's not just the homeless, or the Lewis Street area, that are concerning.
THE HOMELESS / ADDICTED POPULATION
The number of homeless people has increased exponentially. Some of the reason is the movement of those people from different cities as well as the easy access to drugs, both illegally sourced and sourced from provincial safe injection site. We truly need to push the provincial government to look at the core reason for this homelessness issue, as it is not a municipal issue. However, until the province comes up with significant plans and programs to help those homeless and addicted, the results do become a municipal issue.
Why? When the population of addicted or homeless people increase, yet we have the same amount of beds available for them that's been in place for over 10 years, desperation can occur on their parts. As such, many resort to petty crimes of theft, in order to pay for their addictions or, perhaps, to put some sort of shelter over their heads. As desperation increases, community safety & security become paramount. This means more community safety officers and RCMP involvement which, unfortunately, can take them away from other pressing needs. Having Warmland House so close to Quamichan & Alexander schools, when children are walking to and from school, strolling by addicts shooting up or fornicating in the street, is an extra level of serious concern that should be a significant priority for our municipality. We need to really look at locations for housing and services, taking into account ALL residents, neighbours, stakeholders & children in those decisions.
TEMPORARY / TRANSITIONAL HOUSING
The province has begun some work on transitional & temporary housing, including the modular apartment units on Drinkwater/Paddle Roads and White Road, as well as the temporary sleeping pods on Trunk Road. This is a good first step (well, the pods are questionable) but ONLY if there are services / counsellor helps available to these homeless or addicted people. If not, then the units just become a new staging area for continual drug abuse and theft, and worsening concerns.
From a municipal level, the zoning or development processes need to ensure community safety is paramount, especially around schools, residents and small businesses, that are just trying to carry on their daily lives. To approve a safe-injection site around the corner from a middle school is asinine. Coordinating rezoning applications to assist the province in transitional housing, along with permanent housing, should be a focus, to get the homeless population into safe & quality rentals, assuming the province provides the continuous supports & training people need to better themselves in the future.
Round table discussions need to happen on every plan for provincially-approved programs around homelessness and addictions, especially those that attempt to house people in transitional housing units. Let's ensure STRONG communication with all stakeholders - the province, the other municipalities and, especially, the community including parent groups! Security around schools MUST be priority. It's hard enough being a kid/teen these days without worrying about walking to school each day.