Gibsons council responded with frustration to a letter from BC Housing admitting further delay in the supportive housing project on School Road and that is hasn’t established a cold weather emergency shelter in town – instead it’s shipping people to a Sechelt motel.
In the letter, included in the Dec. 15 Gibsons regular council meeting agenda, BC Housing Lower Mainland director Naomi Brunemeyer said the supportive housing project “is on track to open in February 2021.”
“We have worked with the Town of Gibsons staff and our contractor to ensure that the timeline does not slip further and appreciate your ongoing support and patience during this process,” she said, adding they intend to establish a community advisory committee to work with the Town and the public.
“We’ve heard mid-January, third week in January, now we’re hearing February,” said Mayor Bill Beamish. “We just don’t know when this is going to happen.”
As for the shelter, Brunemeyer blamed a lack of “non-profit staff” available to “provide additional shelter support services on the coast right now.” The organization has been “exploring a variety of options,” she said, and space is available in Gibsons, as is funding.
Last year a temporary shelter was established Dec. 1 and in 2018 one opened Dec. 12.
This year, Brunemeyer said, BC Housing has booked the Blue Sky Motel in Davis Bay and will transfer people from the shelter in Sechelt to the motel, making room for people from Gibsons as they “continue to look for alternative shelter options in Gibsons.”
This is the second hotel contracted by BC Housing this year on the Sunshine Coast. In May, BC Housing entered into a contract with Royal Reach Motel on Wharf Avenue in Sechelt to set up a temporary space to deal with reduced capacity at the RainCity-operated shelter due to COVID-19.
At the end of the letter, Brunemeyer asked to arrange a meeting with the mayor, RainCity Housing and BC Housing to “to discuss in more detail how we can work together to ensure the success of housing and services for those experiencing homelessness in your community.”
Councillors expressed frustration with communication from the organization on both the supportive housing and shelter fronts.
Beamish said the Town had already shared ideas for where to establish a cold weather shelter, including at the Gibsons and District Recreation Centre. “We tried to engage with BC housing on that, again unsuccessfully,” he said. “We weren’t hearing anything back from them at all. It’s very frustrating.”
Coun. David Croal said the need for an emergency shelter was first raised as early as March. “At that time the supportive housing was due to be open late October, early November. I question why people weren’t being trained to operate the shelter,” he said.
“There’s obviously an apparent disconnect. Staff is a huge issue but why they haven’t been addressing that up front just boggles my mind.”
Croal also questioned whether there was a “plan B” in place outside sending people in taxis up to Sechelt.
“Right now I feel there’s so much lipstick being put on the pig it’s embarrassing. Worse than that it’s neglect of humans in our community, it’s deplorable.”
Coun. Stafford Lumley said it was wrong for BC Housing to bring the shelter and supportive housing issues together in the Dec. 15 letter. “People are out on the streets cold. The first priority is that,” he said.
On supportive housing, Beamish said he had a conversation with Brunemeyer in September about “the lack of services that the province is putting in place to help the [residents] be successful.” He said there has been “a lack of communication” since the program was approved in 2019.
Coun. Aleria Ladwig said in her 20 years of government she “had never experienced such a significant degree of lack of transparency and respect from another government department, and it’s continuing. It’s really disappointing to see.”
Councillors voted to respond in a letter to set a date for the meeting before Christmas, and to ask that representatives of mental health services also attend. Beamish also said council should insist that the supportive housing advisory committee be set up before the supportive housing project opens.