The rise in homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the city of Coquitlam last month to apply for senior government cash.
Council OK’d a grant bid for city staff to go after nearly $300,000 through the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) to train city staff who are in daily contact with the homeless and to expand the homeless outreach for non-profits.
Specifically, if approved, the grant would pay for the Homelessness Services Association of BC to educate between 40 and 50 city staff — including all the bylaw enforcement employees and some in the parks, public works and police departments — about how to respond to the needs of the homeless.
The $24,800 program is 12 hours of online classes.
But the largest chunk of the proposed grant would go to social service groups that are already on the ground to help unsheltered people:
- $201,271 to add two outreach workers and a mental health worker for the Phoenix Society
- $70,010 to expand the Hope for Freedom homeless outreach team from two to three workers
If approved, the grant funding — administered under the UBCM’s COVID-19 Restart Funding for Local Governments: Strengthening Community Services 2021 program — would last for a year, until July 2022, and parallel provincial efforts.
The federal and provincial governments are providing $540 million in shared funding to municipalities under the Safe Restart Agreement, to protect public health and safety; a city of Coquitlam’s size is eligible for up to $2.5 million.
“It’s unfortunate that there’s a lot of money available and we’re not applying for more,” said Coun. Chris Wilson, at last month’s council meeting.
Wilson also mentioned the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group and asked that it be included for educational outreach while Coun. Steve Kim suggested the grant money, if awarded, be used to train small business owners as well.
According to a report by Jim McIntyre, Coquitlam’s general manager of planning and development, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a financial strain on many residents and has impacted government and non-profit services:
- the homeless shelter at 3030 Gordon Ave., run by RainCity, cut the number of shelter beds available
- the cold/wet weather mat program, during the winter months, was cancelled
- “wrap-around” services to help homeless people were impacted because of shift in provincial health resources
“As a result, [bylaw] enforcement staff have fewer meaningful options to offer the local homeless population, and encampment-related issues are becoming more difficult to address,” McIntyre wrote in his report, dated April 6.
Meanwhile, city staff will also apply for another UBCM program to address future wildfires in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Anmore and Belcarra.
Coquitlam Fire Chief Jim Ogloff said the $500,000 grant, if successful, would pay for five to seven temporary positions to coordinate and deliver programs across the region as well as the equipment and materials needed for their jobs.
City staff are now working with a consultant to update the 2007 Community Wildfire Protection Plan; the new Community Wildfire Resiliency Plan will guide the city for the next decade to further reduce the wildfire risk in the region.