Outreach co-ordinator for transient population in Happy Valley-Goose Bay turned down by province
Town councillors say numbers are getting higher
Requests to the province to fund an outreach co-ordinator for the transient population in Happy Valley-Goose Bay have so far gone unanswered.
The transient advisory committee in Happy Valley-Goose Bay — a group established in 2017 to address the growing transient population — asked for the outreach position to be created in the 2018 and 2019 provincial budgets.
That hasn't happened.
Jackie Compton-Hobbs, a town councillor who sits on the transient advisory committee and chairs the Happy Valley-Goose Bay Housing and Homelessness Coalition, says the transient population is growing, and finding a solution isn't easy.
So far this spring, she said the town has been receiving complaints: concerns about people drinking in public, crossing the road unsafely and sleeping outside around the town. Compton-Hobbs told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning that she's seeing new faces.
"There's new people joining the group. I don't know why they're here, if they're planning on staying here for the summer," she said.
"That tells me that the problem is not going away. Numbers are getting higher."
Compton-Hobbs said it's a sensitive topic given people's struggles with addictions, mental health and family issues — but believes an outreach co-ordinator would make a difference.
"We'd like to see someone hired who can go out there, talk with the people, refer them to mental health, refer them to AES [Advanced Education and Skills], refer them to wherever they need to go to get some assistance," she said.
Compton-Hobbs explained some of the transient population comes to Happy Valley-Goose Bay for medical appointments, ends up staying until the fall arrives, and aren't homeless per se, as some do have homes in their communities.
We're hoping the community that has the concerns will call the town and also the RCMP.- Joe Tremblett
She's also heard some people who live on the coast want to go home but can't afford it, adding that while not everyone wants help, she believes addressing the issue is a matter of public safety for everyone.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay town councillor Joe Tremblett, who chairs the town's enforcement committee, says hiring a second enforcement officer is in the works.
He said the town also meets with the RCMP on a monthly basis to express its concerns.
"We're hoping the community that has the concerns will call the town and also the RCMP," Tremblett said.
"If they see something, they need to report it. We don't watch social media, so people need to call in their concerns."
Reporting illegal activities
Compton-Hobbs adds that people have been weighing in on the issue on social media.
"I've seen several comments. People keeping saying it seems like the town and the government, and whoever, are turning a blind eye to this, but that's not true," she said.
Tremblett said he'd like to see more residents play their part.
"I'd love for people to get active. I think the last post I saw was 300 and something comments. If those 300 people called in when they seen something, maybe this would help the situation," he said.
Tremblett said he's had complaints about people having sex in public, and town staff have to regularly clean out the dugouts at Husky Park given that they're used as washrooms, and that's a health concern.
I said last year, and I'll say it again, that I am tired of meeting and that it's time for action.- Jackie Compton-Hobbs
He said an enforcement officer can tell someone to pour out their alcohol, or tell them to move on, but he admits it doesn't solve the root cause.
"We gotta remember, these people are humans, and they dealing with issues," said Compton-Hobbs.
"If there's any way we can help them, they want the help, then we need to put something in place," she said.
Compton-Hobbs said the housing and homelessness coalition and the transient committee have met with the Lake Melville MHA several times, as well as other government ministers. She's also attended combined council meetings to talk about the issue, and they are all well aware of the situation.
Time for action
"I said last year, and I'll say it again, that I am tired of meeting and that it's time for action," Compton-Hobbs said.
"Obviously, an outreach co-ordinator is not going to fix the whole problem, but it'll certainly help."
In April, the federal and provincial governments announced they have agreed to spend $270 million on housing in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Compton-Hobbs hopes money can be found for an outreach position, and said an affordable housing specialist has been invited to meet with the coalition in order to look into it.
Over the years, she said the coalition has looked at housing models other communities have used, and has hosted events like the Let's Talk Housing Forum. They will also be working with a student doing research on the transience issue this June.
Meanwhile, Compton-Hobbs has some advice for residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
"I can't stress that enough, people need to report any criminal activity that they witness. Don't go on social media — pick up the phone and call it in."
With files from Labrador Morning