A proposed homeless camp in Williams Lake does not have the blessing of city staff and council.
“We will look and help do whatever we can for a long-term solution but we are not prepared to have a tent city in Williams Lake,” Mayor Walt Cobb said during a committee of the whole meeting, Dec. 8.
On Nov. 24 council received a presentation from Judy Ventry on behalf of several organizations that have formed an Emergency Housing Response Team. After the presentation council directed staff to follow up with the group to examine options and report back to council.
Council discussed that report during the committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, Dec. 8.
Cobb thanked Ventry and the team for the ‘tremendous’ job they have done to tackle homelessness in Williams Lake.
Echoing the mayor, Coun. Sheila Boehm thanked the group for their efforts.
As a prior nurse, Boehm said she knows there are issues surrounding mental health in the city, which impacts homelessness.
“I am so proud of the fact that we have the situation table that has identified this. I have lived here most of my life and this is an ongoing issue.”
There is no perfect answer, Boehm added, noting from observing what has happened with tent cities in other towns, council cannot endorse one.
Coun. Ivan Bonnell added while he is not keen on establishing a tent city, he is concerned about the next 120 days as winter begins to settle in and how the situation is going to be addressed.
He suggested there has to be another solution, such as occupying a vacant building or room, of which there are many in Williams Lake.
“We aren’t building a one-star resort or anything here, but obviously a dry, warm place where somebody can rest for the night and stay out of the elements. If they have a bathroom that’s a plus.”
The group had also asked that 10 per cent of the $2.6 million the city received from a provincial COVID-19 recovery grant be allocated to aid homelessness in the community, which council denied at its regular meeting Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Ventry joined the meeting by phone and said the tents were not the first choice or what they think is ideal.
“We know they are not a great thing,” she said. “This was a desperate measure to help keep these people alive. We have been fortunate with the weather recently that they have been sleeping outside and they are OK still.”
An empty building would be a higher risk because it would need staffing and no one has the ability to pull that together quickly, she added.