Grand Forks, B.C., won't approve request to use city park for homeless camp this winter
'We just we want a place that's warm, safe and clean,' says homeless spokesperson
City council in Grand Forks, B.C., will turn down a request by the local homeless population to keep a city-owned campground open over the winter, the mayor says.
Homeless spokesperson Mona Rosengren made a presentation to council on Monday saying homeless campers are willing to pay camping fees so that they could live there throughout the winter and have access to running water and power.
But Mayor Brian Taylor says the campground in the West Kootenay community is not built for winter dwelling.
"There are some serious problems with what she was asking for. The campground's water lines are not far enough underground to withstand winter weather and the washrooms as well are not winter equipped," Taylor told Chris Walker, host of Daybreak South.
The city's public works manager and engineer deemed winterizing the campground both unaffordable and untimely.
Taylor says there are currently no backup solutions to help shelter the homeless population.
"At this time I think that we need to find a location for those people that are rough camping to at least have toilets and water," said Taylor.
Approximately 50 people in Grand Forks are homeless, according to Rosengren. More than 20 of them are currently living in campers and tents on a city-owned section of a local mountain called Motocross Track.
The location has no power, water or toilets. Rosengren says winter conditions there are harsh.
"Last year we had a guy that lost his toes because of frostbite," she said.
Many of the campers use propane heaters, but Rosengren says they are dangerous. Two weeks ago a trailer burned down at Motocross Track after the owner accidently knocked his over.
"We're not asking [the city] for more than they can give. We just we want a place that's warm, safe and clean. Just somewhere where we can live," Rosengren said.
Differences of opinion
Taylor says there are divisions within city council about sheltering the homeless, with some believing the issue should be resolved by the province,
"Until we get a clear understanding of council's commitment to what is the city's responsibility and what is the province's responsibility, I think we'll continue to be spinning our wheels," said Taylor.
City council has told the province it needs a solution for homelessness in the area, but Taylor says the process is moving too slowly. The city also has a 15-member social services advisory committee discussing the problem.
"I'm concerned that the weather is changing quickly here. We are already having freezing nights," said Taylor.
A homeless shelter was shut down in Grand Forks in August due to a zoning issue.
Owner of Vancouver-based company Weeds Glass and Gifts, Don Briere, bought the city's old Greyhound station with plans to open a cannabis store. While waiting for a city permit for the store, he rented the space out to Whispers of Hope, a non-profit charitable organization, which operated a homeless shelter there.
City council said Briere's rental agreement was in violation of Weeds' zoning specifications. As a result, Weeds evicted Whispers of Hope.
Taylor says this series of events triggered BC Housing to remove Whispers of Hope's funding to operate the shelter — BC Housing has a policy of not funding programs that are in violation of zoning bylaws.
With files from Daybreak South