Whatever is a Warming Space?
A total of 26 joined us for all or part of the time at this ASK Salt Spring Zoom gathering welcoming CRD’s Gary Holman. After the Territorial Acknowledgement, Gary began by giving us some unfortunate budget news: Because our BC property assessments have increased far more than the CRD average, Salt Spring taxpayers will now pay a larger percentage for our regional services, like parks, administration, and health facilities. Gary reminded us that we also benefit from these CRD services, including the $3 million recently provided by the CRD Regional Hospital District (CRHD) to help fund our new Lady Minto Emergency Room.
This will mean a tax increase somewhat higher than the 3.6%proposed in the CRD provisional budget. While Gary has no control over our assessed values and, therefore, the percentage of Salt Spring regional service costs, he pointed out that he could still reduce our local requisition. He has decided not to do so because of the importance of these services to our community. For example, the most significant increase in our local CRD service requisition will allow PARC to offer below-market rental rates to the numerous community groups that will be applying for space at the Middle School which CRD will begin leasing later this year.
The first question for Gary was about concerns that more family practitioners are leaving Salt Spring. This not only leaves many more SSI residents without a family doctor, it also could have implications for the staffing of the expanded Lady Minto Hospital emergency room. While Gary did not have an answer to this staffing question, he did tell us that he had recently met with local Island Health staff and the Division of Rural Practice (https://divisionsbc.ca/rural-and-remote) to explore ways to entice doctors to Salt Spring. While housing remains a constraint, Gary was encouraged by the ideas being considered for more effectively-recruiting doctors.
Concerning housing, while the SeaBreeze Inne may not be the housing needed to encourage doctors to move to Salt Spring, these residences are likely to help address the housing needs for other health workers.
After this health question, our entire time together was focused on housing and related supports. Topics were worker housing, the Drake Road Supportive Housing Project, and the Warming Space.
Worker Housing: When asked about possible CRD supports for worker housing, Gary explained their two key funding sources:
The Regional Housing Trust Fund (https://www.crd.bc.ca/project/regional-housing-first-program/regional-housing-trust-fund) has been in existence for years and helped support construction of Murakami Gardens.
The Regional Housing First Fund (https://www.crd.bc.ca/project/regional-housing-first-program), a funding partnership of CRD, BC Housing, and the federal CMHC, helped fund Croftonbrook. This program will be fully subscribed and end December, 2022. Gary told us that the CRD Board will soon begin discussions about the continuation of funding partnerships and eligibility criteria.
We learned from Gary that the priority for the CRD funding programs is subsidizing units rented at shelter rates (i.e., social assistance rates). Gary supports this priority because those with the lowest incomes in our society, many of whom are also homeless, have the greatest need for affordable housing. Eligibility criteria for projects funded by the CRD also require affordable units rented at 30% of median income, as well as low end of market rentals. While none of this funding is aimed specifically at worker housing, many of the rental units at all three income levels are occupied by workers. In fact, Gary believes that some tenants of the supported housing project on Drake Road will also be working in our community.
Gary also applauded the fact that some of our larger local businesses are also stepping up to provide housing for their workers and suggested that the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation’s purchase of the Seabreeze for health worker housing was another example of this approach. He also reminded us that, despite some challenges, the Dragonfly Project on Drake Road is moving forward to provide 30 units of ownership housing prioritized for workers. There is also hope that Community Services will acquire the Land Bank properties which could also offer some some additional affordable rentals, at least some of which will benefit workers. There is also room for additional development on the CRD Drake Road property in addition to the supported housing project.
When a participant asked Gary what individuals could do to help address the need for worker housing, Gary replied there were already a number of groups focused on this challenge. He recommended reaching out directly to these nonprofit organizations or the Salt Spring Housing Council rather than create a new organization. Housing Council members have been preoccupied with completion of their housing projects and/or delivering support services, but this group has begun meeting again. Gary repeated his commitment to provide a grant in aid to complete their governance study to help clarify their objectives and examine alternative governance and funding models.
The Drake Road Supportive Housing Project: Fully-funded by BC Housing, this project will accommodate up to 28 individuals and provide them with ongoing supports, a form of housing that does not currently exist on Salt Spring. Gary believes this is a big win for our community, reminding us that rooms at SeaBreeze Inne were a temporary solution and that, despite local advocacy, BC Housing had refused to buy the motel to make it a more permanent solution. If BC Housing had not committed to the Drake Road supportive housing project, the SeaBreeze Inne residents would have had severely-limited options after Lady Minto Hospital Foundation takes over the motel this summer for health care worker housing.
While there appeared to be agreement among ASK Salt Spring participants that this supportive housing project was a good thing, most also felt that our community - especially neighbours - deserve to know more about this project. There also seemed to be a shared concern with BC Housing’s apparent decision to move the shelter from its current location at Community Services to the Drake Road location. Most seemed to agree that a supportive long term residence is markedly different from an emergency shelter, accommodating the short term needs of on- and, possibly, off-island folks.
It was suggested that the majority of the concerns of neighbours are about the shelter at Drake Road rather than the supportive housing plans. We were reminded that the Community Services shelter is farther from neighbours and that Community Services had already invested money to renovate this 24/7 year-round shelter facility that now may need to be beneficially repurposed.
Gary promised to learn more about BC Housing’s plans for the shelter and, while he believes they are determined to colocate both facilities, he will pursue the option of leaving the shelter in its Community Services location. While it was understood that, administratively, this move to Drake Road may seem like an efficient option, it was hoped that Gary could convince these off-island BC Housing managers of the great concern with their plans to mingle the supportive housing and shelter programs.
The Warming Space: The rest of our time together was spent learning about the Warming Space, welcoming supporters of this initiative. Supporters stated that the Warming Space has created a place to stay warm and dry, but, perhaps even more importantly, a place of connection and mental health support for our most vulnerable. For some, the opportunity to connect in this way is necessary for survival. We were reminded that those who are attracted to the Warming Space are not unruly children to be chastised but are valuable folks who have been members of our community for many years.
Many struggle with addictions and/or mental health challenges.While mostly peaceful, there are conflicts, with experienced volunteers working to address them. And, music, games, laughing, dogs, and drinking can be noisy. Unfortunately, it is these conflicts and noise that are experienced by some neighbours and park users.
First accommodating those in need on Christmas Day, this Warming Space has tried numerous locations and experienced subsequent evictions. Proponents stated that the multiple evictions have been frightening as well a a hardship as many needed supplies were confiscated and are being held in CRD storage. An organizer stated that the CRD’s “heavy-handed approach” has reduced faith in our local government. He pleaded for a transition from this confrontational approach to one of collaboration.
Gary does not agree that bylaw enforcement was heavy-handed. He was clear that elected officials must tread carefully not to interfere with bylaw enforcement. However, he did suggest to staff that they relax enforcement during the coldest part of the year. He stated that CRD staff essentially “looked the other way” for over a month, but finally, after numerous complaints by neighbours and park users, as well as several meetings with Warming Space proponents in which staff encouraged them to submit a park use permit, staff finally had to enforce existing bylaws, resulting in the subsequent evictions.
A participant asked whether the decision to enforce the bylaw was made in Victoria or locally. Gary replied that it was a local bylaw and a local decision, although off-island CRD staff did assist with enforcement.
He reminded us that CRD does own land in Mouats Park where it would be possible - with a permit - to set up the Warming Space from 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. Unfortunately the exposed location, as well as proximity to neighbours and park users, is not ideal. Another problem that proponents believe is untenable is the requirement to set up and take down everyday in the dark, at least during winter months. The proponents also believe that this rule is illegal based on a court judgment regarding a similar bylaw in Victoria.
Gary agreed that the CRD bylaw was inflexible but stated that he would not support variances to the bylaws until a group stepped forward to take responsibility for the management and liability of the Warming Space. Organizers repeatedly asked Gary to meet with them to better understand their needs and seek solutions together. Gary responded that the most productive approach would be to discuss the issue at a Homelessness Coalition chaired by Community Services and attended by various community groups that provide support services for our most vulnerable residents.
Gary committed to contact organizers of the Coalition to suggest a meeting well before next fall and winter. Gary and other participants also agreed to try to ensure that this gathering include Warming Space proponents and those with lived experience of homelessness.
A highly emotional issue, the discussion continued beyond our 1:30 meeting time. While not everyone heard what they wanted to hear, we left with a plan to seek the help of the Homelessness Coalition with the Warming Space.
Many folks left this gathering with a deeper understanding of CRD housing organizations, Drake Road challenges, and the Warming Space, thanking Gary for his willingness to participate in the sometimes difficult process of seeking solutions.(Thanks, Gary!)
Please join us from 11-1 on Friday, March 18, at the Library Program Room to welcome Islands Trustee Laura Patrick.
Following all gathering protocols, please understand that it is also your decision about the safety of gathering While we hope to see you at the Library Program Room, we also understand if you decide to stay home until it is warm enough to meet outdoors in the United Church Meadow.
What do you want to ask her?
What are the 2022-23 Trust Council initiatives?
What are some of the issues before our Local Trust Committee?
What is happening with Islands Trust’s Ganges Village Plan and Housing Task Forces?
Can you tell us about the Ecosystem Protection project?
What progress has been made on the engagement process for the Trust Policy Statement?
And. . . .?
See you Friday, March 18, 11-1 at the Library Program Room to welcome Laura!
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