Homeless program gets last-minute reprieve

The HPS will at least keep its doors open until December

The District of Kitimat will cover rent and salaries for the Community Development Centre’s crucial Homelessness Partnering Strategy until the end of the year.

Following a proposal approved by a full council on Tuesday last week, the District will cover the $5,500 necessary for the salaries of housing advocates Paul Lagace and Anne Moyls every month, as well as the monthly $350 rent for the HPS’ offices at the Northwest Community College, until the end of the year.

“The funding is conditional on a contract signed before July 1, which is necessary to indemnify the District and lay out what both parties must provide,” said District Chief Administrative Officer Warren Waycheshen.

“We don’t see it as very technical, but it is necessary considering they aren’t our employees.”

The amount necessary to cover the salaries and rent is $40,950, which will be made up of the $33,500 remaining in the Social Purposes Fund (a once-off social assistance fund established in 2013) and $7,450 from a discretionary fund.

“We will have to revisit this issue in about October to determine firstly whether the (HPS) has received new funding, whether the District will extend funding, or, if no future funding is provided, there is sufficient time to wind down the operations,” said Waycheshen.

Council had voted the week before to initially just cover the HPS’ rent until May 2018, and directed District staff to draft a proposal looking into the possibility of also covering their salaries.

Following the submission of the proposal last week, the rent will only be covered until December.

“We have tied the rent and operational funding to December 31 as there won’t be a need to budget for rent if the operational expenses can’t be funded,” added Waycheshen.

The proposal was debated at length, with councillor Larry Walker questioning the wisdom of the District stepping in to cover the HPS’ salaries.

“If the government at any level can download costs to municipalities, they will do it,” said Walker. “Mark my words, next year we will be doing it again and again. By crossing this threshold we are basically telling government to push it down our throats and we will accept it.”

To underscore the importance of the provincial and federal government reinstating funding for HPS programs throughout northern B.C., the councillors also voted unanimously to direct staff to provide the CDC with a letter of support to assist them with grant applications for future HPS funding.

Council also approved a motion to petition the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to support the reinstatement of federal government funding for housing resource worker programs in rural communities with populations under 25,000, which is the minimum number of residents in a town required for funding by the federal government.

“The District of Kitimat will also use their attendance at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Convention to lobby the federal government to reinstate funding for Housing Resource Workers,” said Waycheshen.

Council also approved a motion that a meeting be arranged with B.C. Housing in June to discuss housing resource grants and potential support from the province.

The HPS has for the last four years been funded through the federal government’s Rural and Remote Homelessness program.

In 2016 the federal government announced that funding would no longer go to non-designated communities with populations less than 25,000, which includes any community outside of the 61 that receive funding through the designated communities funding stream, communities in Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Nelson, Vancouver and Victoria.

Lagace and Moyls provide a number of services to their clients, which include people with disabilities, the elderly and single mothers.

The services include assisting their clients with everything from income, pension and rental assistance, to problems with mental health, focusing on supporting the vulnerable to ensure they don’t end up on the street.

CDC executive director Margaret Warcup said the District’s lifeline would enable the organisation to continue to look for ongoing funding.

“We are actively working on any door we can open to obtain ongoing funding and this gives us time to keep doing this,” said Warcup.

“The federal government is committed to a Housing First model of service and thus should be funding this service.”