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Homelessness, harm reduction talks to continue in Powell River

City responds to organizations’ request to help with public engagement
DEVELOPING STRATEGY: City of Powell River is further researching how it can assist Lift Community Services and Westview Ratepayers Society regarding public engagement with residents of the city regarding issues of homelessness and harm reduction.

City of Powell River staff will continue discussion with Lift Community Services and Westview Ratepayers Society (WRS) regarding public engagement on homelessness and harm reduction.

At the February 28 committee of the whole meeting, Scott Randolph, director of properties, development and communication, said there had been a delegation from Lift and Westview Ratepayers Society (WRS) on January 17 regarding a potential partnership in developing a strategy regarding homelessness and addiction in the community.

“As a result of that delegation, council passed a motion that staff work together with WRS and Lift regarding supportive housing and community engagement,” said Randolph.

He said on February 1, at the invitation of the ratepayers society, as well as Lift, Randolph, with city councillors Cindy Elliott and Rob Southcott, met with ratepayers’ president Rick Craig, and Lift executive director Stuart Clark, to get a better understanding of what the two organizations were proposing.

Randolph said while a written proposal was not received from the two organizations, they did ask that the city partner in engaging with the public on the issues of homelessness and harm reduction, as they believe the city would bring more credibility to the process.

“Additional discussions with all participating organizations are required to clarify roles, identify areas where there is mutual benefit to coordinate issue management, support effective community strategies, explore grant funding opportunities, and consider cost and resource allocation constraints,” said Randolph. “From those discussions, staff would return to council with recommendations that would define the city’s contribution and expectations of each organization.”

Randolph said on February 21, he and Southcott attended a second meeting with the parties involved and had further discussion around what community engagement actually looks like. He said Lift, in coordination with the province and its communications contractor, are responsible for developing a majority of the information about programs and services being provided within the region.

Some of the opportunities that require further discussion relates to the Lift and WRS request for assistance with preparing media materials, assisting in planning and promoting public engagement events and activities, promoting and circulating education materials through the city’s social media channels and networks, and establishing a joint engagement page on the city’s Participate Powell River website.

Randolph said previously, the city has committed time and resources to addressing homelessness and addiction. In terms of financial impact, he said it appears the majority of the cost of participating in the process would be staff time. It is expected that as part of the cooperation, the city would pay a share of any advertising required, he added.

“At this point, we are looking for direction to continue the conversation with the two organizations and further define exactly what the city’s support would look like if you would like us to continue to be engaged in this process,” said Randolph.

Councillor George Doubt made a recommendation that staff be directed to continue discussions with Lift and WRS and report back with defined roles, contributions and expectations of each organization, with the objective of providing effective public engagement with city residents on the issues of homelessness and harm reduction in the Westview area.

Committee chair councillor Trina Isakson said she is wary about the city getting involved in areas that community organizations are better suited to serve because of their knowledge and expertise.

“That being said, I know these issues do come in front of city council and it’s nice to be involved in a way we can address concerns and communicate with residents and get input,” added Isakson.

Randolph said it is a good relationship and there is a requirement to clearly define the role of each of the parties.

“Out of this, the city can learn a lot, as well, from its residents on what their concerns are,” said Randolph. “I don’t think anyone is saying homelessness and harm reduction isn’t an important issue that we need to address, but I think we need to hear from everyone.”

Doubt’s recommendation passed unanimously.