British Columbia

Workshop helps Tri-Cities businesses deal with homelessness

Sandy Burpee, the past chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Force, is running a workshop to help businesses understand and cope with homelessness in their neighbourhoods.

Workshop to help businesses understand homelessness, show practical ways of dealing with difficult situations

A person sleeps on a cardboard bed just in front of a business alcove blocked by a concrete ball. (David Horemans/CBC)

As homelessness becomes a bigger issue in Metro Vancouver, a workshop is targeting businesses in the region to help them deal with the effects.

Sandy Burpee, the former chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Force, said the origins for the workshop come from a meeting with an RCMP liason officer.

Burpee, of Coquitlam, said the liason officer said businesses in the Tri-Cities — Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, and Port Moody — were increasingly concerned about the proliferation of panhandling in the area.

Burpee completed his own survey of businesses, especially those near a homeless shelter in Coquitlam at 3030 Gordon Street. He said there were several concerns raised about aggressive behaviour, theft and drug use. 

"In one case, it was an attempted purse snatching inside a store," Burpee said. "In another case, it had been several people who had been required to leave the shelter [and were] demonstrating their displeasure in front of another business."

Burpee, who was recently awarded a Community Spirit Award from the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce for his work on homelessness, is working with the Port Coquitlam Business Improvement Association as well as a colleague who has experienced homelessness before for Wednesday's workshop. 

He says the workshop is a combination of helping businesses understand the root of homelessness and what the world looks like for someone who is homeless, and more practical concerns about how to de-escalate a difficult situation on the premises. 

"In the workshop, we walk the line between having empathy and building empathy for people on the street [and] at the same time recognizing that intractable mental health and addictions challenges don't give license to [destroy] a place of business," he said. 

The free workshop takes place Wednesday from 6 to 9 pm PT in the Michael Wright Art Gallery at the Gathering Place in Port Coquitlam

Listen to the interview on CBC's On The Coast here:

With files from On The Coast