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REPORTING · 15th November 2013
Walter McFarlane
The need for a Cold Weather Emergency Response plan was certainly a theme for October. As housing prices have been going up and the amount of low income housing has been dropping, a sudden need for a shelter in Kitimat has become more apparent as we have our first snowfalls and cold windy days.

In October and early November, there were several meetings dedicated to housing and the topic came up in Council several times. The first meeting was held on Thursday, October 10th.

“There have been a number of us, mainly from the social health and education services, the care givers in our community, who have been worried about housing for certain groups of population for a long time. Those living with disabilities, those living on moderate incomes, those with mental health and drug addiction problems, those needing second stage housing as their lives transition from challenges, those who are aging, and we’ve addressed some of those needs in our community. But we do know, from the Child Development Centre, which I represent, we have a number of children who we’ve known from birth to 19 and when they need services over 19 from Community Living BC, which looks after their pensions and their housing and things like that, we’ve had to move them out of our community of Kitimat,” said Warcup.

She stated they have been working on this for a long time, people are frustrated and they do not have a quick solution to solve the problems in the community. She expressed they predicted a few years ago the community of Kitimat needed to be ready for a zero-vacancy rate and it happened a lot sooner than they predicted.

To prepare, they filled in some of the gaps in the foundation by profiling the need for housing, completing a housing needs study. The study shows that there is more than one housing need. Kitimat needs housing for people with disabilities, housing for people with low incomes, housing for people who are aging, housing for poverty, housing for people with mental health issues and more.

The other accomplishment of the Housing Committee was to get a grant to hire a housing support worker, Anne Moyls.

Warcup stated there were two things which needed to be looked at. First, they needed to decide what they were going to do for the winter to address immediate needs, and what they needed to do long term.

Moyls expressed she does outreach work with people in the community and is coming up against a housing crisis. People are being evicted for the purpose of renovations which is within the law, but these people have no place left to go. Rents have been doubling and tripling because of what is happening in the community and they do not know how to navigate these changes.

One of the challenges facing the Housing Committee are the many needs which Kitimat has for housing. Warcup explained there are a lot of housing needs, but no one group meets the criteria to have funding coming down for projects. Warcup stated the need to create mixed housing where they can meet a couple of needs within a complex.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan suggested the first step should be to look at other foundations and societies so they can attempt to get funding. They should also have a plan on the table so if they do get funding, they can take it.

Denise O’Neil from Kitimat Community Services explained there has been offloading of responsibility from the Ministry when it comes to people applying to income assistance. O’Neil stated she had a conversation with a ministry worker from Prince George who told her they are trained to offload responsibility.

People who call the ministry looking for income assistance do not deal with a person right away, they are put on hold for 45 minutes. The person on the other end will likely hang up on you. If a person calls in crisis, they will be offloaded to a local charity.

One of problems, which was brought up by a representative of one of the big companies looking at Kitimat right now, is that their company has not made a final investment decision on whether they are going to come in or not. The company is working with the District about the pressures they are feeling now, which will increase if there is a build. They added the reason for a camp is to reduce the pressures on a community. They stated Kitimat is doing all the right things right now, as many communities wait until it’s too late before they do something.

One of the residents present talked about the challenge facing a project which is being put together by the Catholic Church in Kitimat to build 20 units of housing. He expressed they are going to have to build two projects because the challenges which face certain types of housing are different from those which face other types of housing.

However, two projects of 20 units of housing would cost an estimated $10,000,000.

Some talk went into a winter shelter for the homeless people. However, there are not any numbers for the people who are living in the river area. They are seen visiting the service societies in town from time to time but they are under the radar. The estimate is 20-30, but that number is expected to increase as the temperature drops.

There is no space for a shelter. Councillor Mario Feldhoff suggested there was some land which could be purchased by the District. He suggested contacting someone who is familiar with constructing modular housing to fit the need.

One suggestion is for residents to open their homes up to the homeless when things get cold for the winter. Another suggestion was there are a lot of churches in the community which are only used on Sunday. All it would take is a couple of matts which could be wiped down so homeless people could sleep on the floor of churches.

However, a problem was pointed out. Most of the churches took a hit to their congregations when Eurocan closed. They do not have the volunteers to do these programs. It was suggested if the people of Kitimat unite to run it out of one building, the program could be a success.

Councillor Edwin Empinado stated there are towns in BC which have policies in place, where if some industry is looking to come to town, they have to give to the town by building units. He said he wanted to see some of this in the community.

Councillor Mary Murphy suggested Council change some of the community’s bylaws, such as if there is an apartment block going up, some of the rooms have to be dedicated to low income housing or housing for people with disabilities.

Feldhoff stated money will be available in the next couple of years, depending on what industries are coming to Kitimat. He added Kitimat has money in reserves for road paving and recreation. Monaghan pointed out the downside to this is taxes could go up.

It was pointed out if Kitimat was declared to be in a cold weather response, there is money which is available to rent hotel rooms for homeless.

The Mayor did ask if Roy Wilcox or Cormorant had any room to put people up. She was told Rio Tinto Alcan is using Roy Wilcox and Cormorant was full. One suggestion from the populace was, why not use the former Council Chambers in the Public Safety Building as a Cold Weather Shelter.

Monaghan pointed out this was there for a crisis, but Feldhoff pointed out this is a crisis. Someone else added the Public Safety Building was staffed 24 hours.

The second Dialogue on Housing took place on October 17th. This meeting was with Malachy Tohill, The Regional Operations Director for BC Housing for the North. He stated they are looking for proposals coming forward so they can see how they can help.

He expressed that a not for profit group needed to take the lead on a cold winter shelter. The Ministry of Housing would help them with this because they do not wish to see fatalities. He stated they needed to have a non-profit organization working on it.

Tohills’ organization has methods and ways to help out with the mortgage for putting together low income housing. They can be creative in doing it.

With Tohill was Geoff Stedman from BC Housing Development Services. “Development Services is really responsible for the delivery of Social Housing Projects,” said Stedman.

He explained he was there to talk about CPI, Community Partnership Initiative, which is there to increase the supply and range of housing options for low to middle income households in BC.

“BC Housing Services implements programs, we work with non-profits to facilitate the creation of affordable housing in the province. We provide in term construction financing and long term take out financing for affordable housing projects and we encourage partnerships with those developments,” said Stedman.

“Although non-profits are responsible for the planning and the delivery and the operation of the houses, BC Housing works closely with those non-profit organizations. The Non-Profit organizations take the lead on those developments through our CPI Programs. BC Housing’s role in CPI is to manage the delivery of those housing programs, evaluate proposals for affordable housing options, and to provide and facilitate financing for those developments, provide technical assistance for those developments and evaluate the success of those projects.”

He explained the CPI Program is there to provide financing to those projects, but they have no funding for their funding supplied programs. He discussed those programs which were funded in the past and how successful they were.

The funding provided is available to all non-profits around the Province. To qualify for the money, a non-profit society has to be registered, must meet BC Housing requirements with their constitution and bylaws, requires management experience with similar types of housing and must enter into an operating agreement. The land must be suitable for the housing, controlled by the society and there has to be a completed need and demand study. The projects have to be sustainable. The partner must bring equity to the development, land, cash or municipal reductions.

He went through the process which Non-profits had to go through, the financing which is available for projects and how BC Housing ensures the land is used for the use which is intended.

The needs study is used to justify the project because there is a risk involved. Stedman stated he needs to build a business case for why there is a need or demand for housing. The housing committee explained to their guests there are a range of needs which Kitimat needs housing for. They hit a wall because they are asked to produce one project. They were told they need something which shows they meet the criteria in the community.

It was suggested that Kitimat have a proposal ready so when funding becomes available, they can submit it. “When those programs come along, they come along fast and they are snapped up,” said Tohill.

They were asked when funding for programs may come available. The response was it could come at any time. The committee stated they also have to figure out what flavour funding could be. Monaghan stated she has been appealing to the industry for funding for something.

On Monday, October 28th, Council received a presentation from Trish Parsons who proposed a cold weather response program.

“What we do need is someone to come up with an actual work plan, a budget, what it’s going to cost for the community to have this cold weather plan in place,” said Parsons.

She said they have an individual who is trained to coordinate and move the program forward, by insuring the volunteers are covered by insurance and not liable when they extend a hand and help people get up.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff asked if there was a need for cold a weather shelter. Parsons stated there are a number of individuals who were identified, between 8 and 14. She added there are residents which were given until the end of October to find new accommodations and they were having problems as well.

Following, Council approved changes to the terms of reference of the Housing Committee. The motion would allow two members to join, make it possible for the group to undertake a project with other groups or by themselves, and oversee the proposals for support housing for seniors, persons with disabilities, people with low incomes and other identified target groups.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan wondered why she was not on the list. She was told she was on every list. Councillor Corinne Scott pointed out the Housing Committee reviewed the terms of reference and are in support of it. The motion was called and carried.

At Council on Monday, November 4th, Councillor Edwin Empinado made a motion to grant the Child Development Centre $2,600 for the purpose of devising an extreme weather response plan and a budget for an extreme weather shelter.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff stated the weather changed quickly and there was no shelter space identified. Having a plan in place will allow them to respond quickly. However, he hoped there would not be a need for it.

Councillor Phil Germuth stated he hoped the Province and others would be willing to step up to the plate on this. The motion was called and carried.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan began to look into the issue further, trying to get a trailer unit from one of the companies which was looking at Kitimat. She approached ATCO and talked them into a Washer Unit. This unit would be able to hold 8 people to sleep and more if you can squeeze them in. It also has a washroom and showers.

However, it would cost $7,000 to bring it up to Kitimat. Monaghan reminded them they were bringing their trailers into Kitimat, using the roads, sewers, water, bridges and making requests of Council. Monaghan agreed to the $7,000 and approached Tohill for the money. She found out it would take three months to get the money so she decided to foot the bill up front and get reimbursed later.

However, the next time she talked to Tohill, he had some good news for the Mayor. “He said: ‘What I’ll do, I will give you from the Province without you applying, $7,000 plus I’ll give you $8,000 on top of it for other things.’ That’s for food and things like that. I said ‘That’s wonderful!’ and that’s from Malachy and Stedman,” said Monaghan. “We got the money for people who need help and that was the main thing.”

The unit will be coming up and will be in Kitimat until April. Monaghan expressed this is a pilot project to see what the community can and cannot do; if they need it or if they do not. Monaghan added they will be trying to identify how many people need this service, which is important because people without shelter go places others cannot see them.

One of the final things they need are mattresses. Monaghan stated Tohill will be giving them mattresses and blankets for the unit free of charge. These mattresses can be disinfected.

Monaghan added that legislation keeps the pets out in the cold unless it can be proven they do not have fleas. However, the Mayor has made arrangements with Maryanne Baumbach at the Looking for Love Animal Shelter to get the pets flea baths and flea collars.

The only other thing which is needed is Council approval.