Solving social problems such as crime, loitering, discarded needles and drug use around the Gordon Avenue homeless shelter and the nearby Coquitlam/Port Coquitlam border will take time, resources and commitment from multiple jurisdictions, a Coquitlam council task force suggests.
But the fact that a number of solutions are already being undertaken suggests a commitment to tackling the issues and making the area safer, says the group's chair.
“All of these agencies were part of this consultation, they were part of the prioritizing,” Coun. Chris Wilson said in an interview with The Tri-City News last week after council endorsed the report. "We fully expect they’ll be stepping up with more resources to do this work."
Among the projects underway is the opening of an opioid agonist treatment (OAT) clinic in Port Moody, Wilson said, and a plan to change how needles are distributed, collected and tracked.
“One of the big recommendations is working with Fraser Health to come up with a different model in the Tri-City area so that those impacts in the residential communities are minimized even though it’s not just residents of 3030 Gordon who are discarding them [needles].”
Wilson said the business community has already seen some improvements since the task force was initiated earlier this year and efforts by Coquitlam RCMP to be more proactive are appreciated.
But he cautioned people to not assume that just because police cars are outside the Coquitlam shelter that there is a problem.
“They are just coming in to see how things are going to keep a positive relationships with the shelter and the residents of the shelter.”
The task force report notes that the shelter opened during the current opioid crisis — which has been declared a provincial health emergency — and that a number of problems require more resources and treatment.
“The current opioid crisis has seen an unprecedented increase in drug overdoses and overdose deaths over the last several years, especially with the rise of highly addictive and lethal synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which is cheap, readily available on the street and laced into many other substances,” the report states.
Coquitlam Fire/Rescue has been on the front lines, according to the report, handling 598 OD/poison calls since the shelter opened in late 2015 — 14% of which, or 85, were at the shelter.
Wilson noted that these calls would have been made to people living in the bushes — and thus harder to reach — had the shelter not been in existence and that police and fire told the task force that the shelter is not overburdening them.
“In their opinion, it's been a very very positive thing,” Wilson said.
In fact, he said, the number of homeless people has doubled in recent years, with 157 at the latest count, and another facility, possibly an abstinence-based shelter, is recommended.
“BC Housing is happy to work with the cities to put that kind of housing in,” Wilson said.
Other recommendations are things the cities could do, such as introducing a loitering bylaw, increasing the frequency of litter pickup, establishing a community patrol or neighbourhood watch, making improvements to refresh the Westwood Street business area and possibly forming a business improvement association.
Coquitlam is also looking at whether it should update bylaws to allow clinics for people seeking addiction treatment.
For example, the city currently prohibits methadone dispensaries except those that were grandfathered before the regulations, and suboxone, an opioid agonist therapy that is a relatively new treatment for drug addiction, may need to be added to the bylaw.
But no changes would happen without community consultation, according to Andrew Merrill, the city’s manager of community planning.
“Refining what is the cities’ role in controlling residents’ access in getting health care is something we need to talk to the community about,” Merrill said.
Wilson said he was pleased with the efforts of the task group to collaborate and discuss the issues rather than using the issues as debating points for a civic election.