Council puts homelessness on the table

by Lucie Roy

The topic of persons experiencing homelessness and transients was brought forward by Councillor Stephen Dafoe at the Sept. 17 Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting. resulting in two motions being made, one of which was withdrawn pending the review of the Community Standards Bylaw this fall.

Mayor Turner moved that Council direct Administration to bring forward a report by the end of 2019 with information on three topics; the overall assessment of the matter of people experiencing homelessness in Morinville, Identification of work that is currently being done to support these individuals, including Town of Morinville and other agencies and third any long term plans, including cost estimates to provide effective supports in the future.

A second motion initially put forward by Dafoe was that Administration bring forward by the end of this year some recommended additions to the Community Standards Bylaw that would address loitering and aggressive panhandling. Dafoe withdrew the motion as it was revealed the Bylaw is due to come forward to Council in October at which time the additions could be debated.

In the discussion, Dafoe said he asked Council to put homelessness (transients) on the agenda. Dafoe said he was mindful that the Community Needs Assessment in the full form may assist to deal with some of this particular matter if talking about mental health.

“It has been an interesting summer for me in that almost every business I have gone into, they are raising grave concerns. I know we put persons experiencing homelessness in the agenda topic. I am not necessarily talking about homelessness. The individuals that have had concerns expressed to me about, by the public but primarily the business community may or may not be homeless. They can be in hotels, campgrounds or [living] with people. The problem is a lot of our business community are having issues with them just hanging around in front of the shop, which is driving people away. ”

Dafoe said he was not expecting any decisions that night, but did want to put it on the table because the matter was not just a case of a couple of people complaining about something on social media. Dafoe said he had had many long conversations that he has had with members of the business community who have asked what can be done about it.

Dafoe went on to say that unfortunately in some cases we do have {homeless/transients} with mental health issues, but we lack the resources here that was identified in the preliminary data that was shown in the Community Needs Assessment.

Dafoe went on to provide an example of what he had seen a few days prior. It was a young lady sprawled out on the grass by Circle K. An hour or so later he observed she hadn’t moved. He called it in because he was concerned for this person’s health. A couple of calls had already been received.

“When you have this kind of thing happening time and time and time again how much time is it tying up for our bylaw, for our peace officers. How much time for the RCMP. What is the best way we can help.”

Councillor Scott Richardson also elaborated on some of the same conversations he has had as well. He said he had a few conversations with residents regarding potential homeless people that are around at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre over the summer and that emails have been forwarded to Council. He has been hearing the same concerns.

Richardson went on to say that he agrees with Dafoe that it is more than a Facebook thing and could be potentially something that increases if we do not do something about it or look at options to do something about it.

Councillor Rebecca Belanko has also had similar conversations and spoke of the panhandling being more aggressive. She spoke of a Facebook page where folks are alerting people about where these groups are because it has become quite problematic. Folks are missing items as things are riffled through and she thinks it can be a bigger issue if addiction is involved. She said people are trying to piecemeal it as best as possible, but she thinks there is a lot of fear that happens with it. She is concerned it is also witch-hunting that happens because people are alerting others, so it also puts everybody on high alert and creates a level of uneasiness in residents.

Councillor Nicole Boutestein mentioned she has seen loitering on the benches on the trail. She spoke of the Community Needs Assessment report coming forward now and if it would change anything in two months.

“It is weather affected,” she said. “Because we really do not have the same facilities as others.”

Councillor Sarah Hall said, “We’ve had homeless people in Morinville throughout the winters, and the numbers may drop.” Hall spoke of getting information on the issue now to get ahead of it for springtime.

“Otherwise, it would be going into the same cycle,” she said.

Hall spoke instead of getting out and getting the information now and going into a year where when it warms up and we are seeing that population maybe increase that we will have the tools ahead of the game going into next spring.

“I think it is very essential to not having these same issues maybe next year or being able to deal with it in a better way,” she said. “I really do support this motion [by Mayor Turner] because if we don’t have all the information of what is being done we can’t possibly know all the agencies and what they need in support moving forward. I think it comes at a perfect time because the Needs Assessment is a big part of that. It ties into everything we just had a report on.”

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  1. A good chat with who stays at the local hotel and how/who they are funded by is a good place to start. It is easy to say “not in my backyard” but there is a reality to the fact that many of the transients are not “from” Morinville. If there was a way to determine locals verses transients…and how did they come to get here. Is the economics of affordability of Morinville and the hotel who people get here or placement by other Government agencies. That being said; many people who stay at the hotel are down on their luck and funding to find a better life or help during a time of need. Then there are others… This should be determined where the others are coming from ?

  2. No easy answers here but a dialogue is a great first step. I hope we can help those in need and address the select few who aggressively panhandle and make others feel less safe in our community.

  3. With all the skilled craftsmen in town, I suggest an out of the box solution like the housing first program that Medicine Hat accomplished.

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