Kamloops councillors, staff discussing role city plays in social services

While housing and health care are issues typically covered by the provincial government, new discussions about the City of Kamloops' role in helping the homeless and vulnerable population have begun.

A meeting is planned for next week between city staff and social agencies, City of Kamloops administration told council at yesterday's council meeting (Jan. 21). The issue of who and how services are provided to the city's street community made headlines earlier this month as the Out of the Cold Kamloops program, which provides overnight shelter, was left with no physical location.

"This recent warming centre discussion has always been something that has been handled through social agencies and faith-based entities and we're now seeing, it would appear, some form of a change there," director of community and protective services Byron McCorkell told council during the meeting.

On social media, many asked what the city was doing to help. Coun. Arjun Singh noticed the comments and brought the issue up at the council meeting, suggesting the city begin to look into changing its role.

"I would agree with the councillor's observations that it would appear the city's name gets thrown up as the body of choice to solve some of these problems where in the past we have never been at the table," McCorkell responded. "We're seeing that more and more in the area of social issues."

Mayor Ken Christian noted that housing and health care are provincial issues, saying if there's a lack of action from one level of government, it's not necessarily the municipality's place to fill that gap.

"The province has the responsibility, the mandate and the money for social assistance and all of the things that go along with this file are related to that social assistance portfolio," he said during the meeting. "I would not want the city to wander into that area without the fullness of the entirety of the file and all the complexities of it."

He added that child welfare adds complexities to the issue and should be dealt with by social workers, social agencies and the provincial government.

McCorkell told council that if the city is going to be taking on a larger role, council will have to tell administration what they're looking to see so staff can create options and look at how much different options would cost.

Now Singh is looking to have a broader conversation about the city's role in social services like housing and street-level outreach. 

"It's always been a background thing, but more and more, when you have discarded needles or people causing issues around business areas or residential areas, the first impulse for people is to say 'The city is right here, what can the city do about it?'" he says. "I think it's important for us to have a thoughtful conversation... as to what we're doing now and whether we would want to do any more and how much that would cost."

He agrees with the mayor that the province and federal government have more funds to tackle challenges, but believes the city's role could change. An example is the role Kamloops RCMP, which are paid for by the city, play as defacto frontline social workers

"At night time the police are called for things that really social workers might go to, but they're not available," he tells KamloopsMatters. "So would the city look at — to forestall increasing policing costs or bylaw costs — would we have a contract with an outreach provider?"

He notes Car 40 is already in that sector to a certain extent, combining provincial and municipal resources. However, Singh points out that police may not be the best option to reach the city's street community.

"There's some great police officers and bylaw officers, most of them are very great, but having a stripe down your leg puts you at a bit of a disadvantage when you're talking to someone who's already vulnerable and marginalized by the system," he says.

That's a conversation Singh hopes to have with the current council as issues like Out of the Cold's closure arise every year.

It's not just a conversation Singh wants to see in City Hall, either. He doesn't think there's been an open, intentional conversation about the city's role in these types of issues, and wants to start one now, involving the community at large.

"We're looking at a conversation around 'Is what we're doing in the city enough? Could we do more? How would we fund that? What would that look like?'" he says. "That's the questions the public has to weigh in on, too."

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