The decision by a group of well-meaning advocates for our most vulnerable residents to locate a “warming space” at Peace Park, then at Mouat Park, has precipitated a barrage of conflicting complaints, from concerned neighbours and park users urging CRD to enforce its bylaws to accusations of heartlessness by the “Warming Space Collective.”
Despite numerous complaints about noise, public intoxication and families feeling unsafe, CRD bylaw enforcement was not initiated for over a month, mindful of the coldest days of the year.
I requested CRD staff to work with the collective and other agencies like Salt Spring Island Community Services (SSICS) to explore options for a temporary warming station. Staff held several such meetings to discuss options, including arrangements at Mouat Park consistent with the longstanding bylaw. I’ve already raised Drake Road possibilities with the CRD Board, but the property has no services. Staff have also suggested the possible use of the courtyard behind the Core Inn (which received a $30,000 gas tax grant from CRD), supported by a portion of over $200,000 in funding secured by CRD for SSICS from the Union of BC Municipalities for COVID recovery services. These suggestions aren’t considered viable by the parties.
It’s important to remember there are a number of facilities (including CRD-funded spaces such as the library and swimming pool) where anyone can get warm during the day, as long as their rules are respected. The SSICS shelter (now receiving year-round, 24/7 funding from BC Housing), the pool and the new laundromat all have showers. SSICS, Copper Kettle/Wagon Wheel, the Salt Spring Community Health Society and Islanders Working Against Violence have together received over $25,000 in CRD Grants-in-Aid for their good work providing support services and mental health wellness initiatives on Salt Spring.
CRD should and does play a role in addressing housing and support services for homelessness, but we’re not a direct provider. The CRD Emergency Social Services function (now contracted to Red Cross) can open public warming centres in case of major events such as power outages, and I’ve asked CRD staff to investigate funding possibilities from Emergency Services BC.
There are gaps in housing and support services on Salt Spring, but despite voter rejection of the proposed CRD Community Safety Service, we have made considerable progress in recent years. In collaboration with other agencies and organizations, CRD has helped advocate for, or funded:
• 24/7 funding (over $900,000 per year) for the SSICS shelter with showers and laundromat.
• BC Housing funding for transition housing at the Seabreeze Inne, all 28 rooms of which are secure until the summer of 2022.
• Establishment of a new laundromat providing essential cleaning services and shower facility to which CRD has contributed $19,000 in funding.
• $25,000 in Grants-in-Aid funding to a number of local organizations providing support services for our most marginalized residents.
• BC Housing commitment for 28 units of fully funded supported housing on the CRD’s Drake Road property (donated by School District 64), with commercial kitchen and common space. The value of this BC Housing investment (in addition to $2.5 million for Salt Spring Commons) will exceed $10 million, plus the ongoing costs of on-site management and supports for individual tenants.
In addition, 80 units of affordable rental housing (20 per cent of which must be at social assistance shelter rates) have just been built or will be completed by June of 2022. The CRD Regional Housing First (RHF) and Regional Housing Trust Fund has provided over $7 million to affordable housing projects on Salt Spring, including Murakami Gardens, The Cedars women’s transition housing and Croftonbrook.
CRD increased funding for its RHF program by $10 million this term and secured matching commitments from CMHC and BC Housing, altogether adding another $30 million to this $90-million fund which is still open for affordable housing grant applications.
CRD has committed $270,000 in gas tax (Community Works Fund) funding for affordable housing on Salt Spring including Salt Spring Commons, Croftonbrook and potable groundwater supplies at Drake Road, the first time gas tax funding has been used to support such projects on Salt Spring.
Public disorder in our local parks is a symptom of the gaps in services for our unhoused and underhoused on Salt Spring. Greater RCMP and CRD bylaw enforcement presence at Centennial Park and CRD management of the United Church meadow (at the request of the church) have made both more welcoming public spaces.
There is more to do, including proactive planning for extreme weather events. CRD participates in a SSICS-led coalition on homelessness, and will continue working with agencies and organizations that provide supporting services. We will also continue to uphold our democratically established bylaws in a balanced and considered way to ensure that our local community parks can be enjoyed by their neighbours and all members of the public.