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EDITORIAL: Seeking shelter solutions in Williams Lake

City council looking for input from residents on potential homeless shelter

If you want to have your say into whether the city should support the creation of an emergency homeless shelter in the former Elks Hall downtown, time is of the essence.

Williams Lake mayor and council are allowing feedback until end of day Sunday, March 24 to BC Housing’s proposal to move the emergency shelter currently operating out of the Hamilton Hotel to the proposed location on First Avenue.

BC Housing appeared as a delegation at the council meeting Tuesday, March 12. It was the first time the public was made aware of the proposal, though the city has been meeting in camera on the topic for the last half a year.

Shell-shocked business owners and managers in the downtown core appeared at the council meeting. With little notice to prepare, they took to the podium to share their emotional tales of the many challenges of owning and operating businesses in the downtown core. Those challenges include experiences of being the first on scene to attend overdoses, deaths and violence due to the ongoing opioid crisis that has gripped the country.

They voiced their fears of what impacts moving a low barrier shelter closer to the downtown could have on maintaining a vibrant downtown for all to enjoy.

In their presentation, BC Housing said Williams Lake has seen a 51 per cent increase in people experiencing homelessness, from an estimated 51 people in 2020 to an estimated 77 at last count. According to the most recent estimate, the Cariboo region (100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Quesnel) has the fourth most homelessness per-capita in the province.

City staff is proposing the former Elks Hall as a viable solution using statutory immunity as a work-around of the area’s current commercial zoning to fast-track a much-needed solution to the problem.

In time for the March 12 meeting, the city received nine letters against the location, one in favour and one urging that the city take more time to weigh the pros and cons. Dozens attended the meeting to personally voice their opposition to the site.

We encourage the city to give the community the time needed to read the reports, watch the video-taped council meeting available online and give their feedback, as well as other options and solutions to the complex problem of homelessness, rather than promises on consultation and very short notice.

- Williams Lake Tribune