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Former Williams Lake mayor raises concerns to council about downtown emergency shelter

Walt Cobb shared letters from local businesses, residents during Dec. 20 meeting
Former Williams Lake mayor Walt Cobb appeared as a delegation Tuesday, Dec. 20 at city hall. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Concerns about the emergency temporary emergency shelter at the Hamilton Inn were voiced to Williams Lake city council Tuesday, Dec. 20, this time by former mayor Walt Cobb.

Cobb said he was speaking on behalf of a group of residents and businesses in the vicinity of the shelter.

He read several letters out loud from various businesses and shared some photographs with council.

Most of the letters he received when he was still the mayor in September, he said, noting he wanted the councillors that were elected this term to see them.

Examples of concerns raised in the letters included drug use in public, discarding of drug paraphernalia, shoplifting, dumpster fires, litter, break-ins, overdoses, lack of security, vandalism, threats, human feces outside, intoxication, harassment of staff and safety of people working at businesses and living in the neighbourhoods.

Earlier this month a delegation appeared before council to talk about setting up a mobile safe overdose prevention education site in the city and Cobb also raised concerns about where that would be located.

“I ask that any future deliberations regarding the extension of the shelter, because that might be coming up in the spring, at the Hamilton, or anywhere in the downtown core or expansion of information or establishment of a safe injection site be seriously considered realizing the negative impact on taxpayers in the city, the businesses, their customers and their homes, particularly the entrance to our great city,” Cobb said.

Responding Coun. Michael Moses the reality is that drug use has been in the downtown core for years and it will continue to be.

“A safe overdose prevention site saves lives, reduces crime, while also reducing stigma and promoting acceptance,” Moses said. “I feel like we should be creating and improving cultural and housing services so that less of our loved ones end up in situations like you have described. Describing such unscrutinized results could lead decision makers such as this council into the wrong direction during a time of crisis and it could also thwart efforts to establish evidence-based harm reduction intervention such as the Hamilton and a potential safe overdose prevention site.”

Cobb thanked him for his comments and said he thinks it is important that some sort of facility is found, but that it is about ‘location, location, location.’

Coun. Joan Flaspohler thanked Cobb for the information and said council needs to be as neutral as it can.

“I want to come in with a clear mind in making any decisions as we move forward.”

Flaspohler also said it is important that any concerns from residents and businesses are going to agencies involved with the shelter as well as to council.

Coun. Jazmyn Lyons said location is the double-edged sword.

People needing to access shelters or safe injection sites are on foot so they need to be local and centralized.

“Before the Hamilton opened up, my business was a little bit further away from it and six years ago I was broken into three times in three weeks. I picked up drug paraphernalia dumped around cars.”

Lyons said a safe overdose prevention site is something that is needed, and she wished she had all the answers, but that is why she is working alongside the other councillors and others to come up with a better answer.

Coun, Sheila Boehm expressed frustration with the lack of funding, housing and supports available and said she will keep pushing for those things.

Mayor Surinderpal Rathor said he wanted to clarify that council has made no decisions about a safe injection site to date and are still waiting for a report from staff.

Coun. Scott Nelson made a motion that council receive the report and letters from the former mayor and refer them to Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Housing, Hamilton Inn and to staff to bring back a report on the homeless problem in the downtown core.

He made a second motion that the information go back to the safe injection site discussion so that council will have all the background information.

Both motions passed unanimously.

READ MORE: Overnight shelter, daytime warming spaces open in Williams Lake as cold weather arrives

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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