The City of Kamloops will be adding two programs established in response to social issues and street disorder to next year’s provisional budget, as the pandemic-related grant which funded the initiatives has come to a close.
On Tuesday, Kamloops council approved a recommendation from city staff to add the Clean Team and the Community Services Officer Outreach Response Program to the provisional 2024-2028 operating budget.
Carmin Mazzotta, the city’s social, housing and community development manager said both initiatives have received positive feedback.
“The feedback we received from our social agencies has been that they greatly appreciate what the CSO Outreach Response Program is able to provide,” Mazzotta.
He said the teams, which pair CSOs with outreach workers from local social agencies, are working 16 hours a day, seven days per week, helping to respond to social issue calls.
According Mazzotta, these types of calls have increased from about 5,800 in the first six months of 2021 to more than 10,000 in the first six months of 2023.
“The teams have connected individuals to shelters 443 times, to health services — which can include mental health or substance use services, wound care, counselling supports — 318 times, and provided 874 referrals for other social support services,” he said.
Mazzotta said the Clean Team, which is coordinated by the North Shore Business Improvement Association and includes three partner social agencies, employs people with lived experience of homelessness or substance use to remove waste, graffiti and drug paraphernalia from city neighbourhoods.
“It's helping to improve community safety while also empowering vulnerable individuals with job skills and employment opportunities, that allow them to stabilize, recover and get to a place where they're able to help others and contribute to community in a healthy way,” he said.
He noted in the first eight months of 2023, the team has collected nearly 800 bags of garbage, 4,500 pieces of substance use paraphernalia and more than 1,100 cardboard boxes. The team has recovered 76 shopping carts and returned them to businesses where possible.
Mazzotta said the programs have been funded through the Strengthening Communities’ Services grant, which has come to a close.
City staff have budgeted $422,000 for the CSO Outreach Response program and $260,000 for the Clean Team — a total of $682,000. Staff will identify appropriate funding sources as part of the 2024-2028 financial plan which will be presented to council later in the fall.
Coun. Kelly Hall noted Kamloops RCMP Supt. Jeff Pelley speaks highly of the CSO Outreach Response Program, while Coun. Margot Middleton applauded the Clean Team and the NSBIA for their "integral" work.
"They are doing work that, quite frankly, nobody else wants to do. The amount of $260,000 is well spent. I can't say enough about them, they are doing a wonderful job," Middleton said.
Coun. Mike O’Reilly said he’d also be supporting the ask.
“I think what is being presented today is great value for our citizens, and they are getting a lot back for that, for what they are putting into it,” O’Reilly said.
Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson said he thinks outreach workers are effective, but wondered why the city was asking for more money if there are already outreach workers present on the streets. He said he also believes BC Housing should be contributing program funding.
Coun. Katie Neustaeter said the programs have had a “profound” impact, but added she was also concerned about downloading the costs of the services to municipal governments after the provincial grants closed.
“These issues, a lot of them, fall within the purview of the province and also the federal government who put policies in place that result in some of these things, but don’t lend the resources that are necessary to deal with them,” Neustaeter said.
In response to a suggestion from Neustaeter, council voted in favour of having staff report the details and costs of these programs to federal and provincial government partners and to seek funding support.