North Cowichan wants to provide as comprehensive a picture as possible to the province of the needs in the municipality regarding homelessness and addictions.
At the council meeting on March 4, council members discussed the essence of the letter that Mayor Al Siebring will send to 10 provincial ministries outlining the many challenges the municipality is facing with homeless and addiction issues, what it is doing in its efforts to deal with them, and what North Cowichan believes the government should be doing to assist.
Siebring pointed out that, unlike many other communities in B.C. that are facing similar issues, North Cowichan and other local governments in the Cowichan Valley operate under a different model.
“Others just want them moved away somewhere else, but we’re saying ‘no’ to that and we’re trying to deal with the issues here, and with more than just band-aids,” he said.
“I don’t buy into harm reduction for its own sake. Harm reduction focuses on just saving lives, but for what? Are we saving them just to overdose again? Let’s help move them into something better.”
The Cowichan Leadership Group, which includes the heads of local governments, school board, MLA Sonia Furstenau, MP Alistair MacGregor, and RCMP and health authorities, has already written to 10 separate provincial ministries seeking urgent funding and support for escalating addictions and housing challenges in the Valley.
Each of the members of the CLG intend to send follow-up letters to each of the ministries — which include the Ministry Health, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions — outlining the specific areas in which they are being impacted by homelessness and addictions.
Coun. Rob Douglas suggested that one issue that should be highlighted in North Cowichan’s letter to the ministries is the fact that some of the recent tax increases in the municipality are related to initiatives that deal with homelessness and addictions.
Social housing and addictions are traditionally the jurisdiction of senior levels of government, and local governments have been complaining about senior governments downloading these responsibilities to the local level for some time.
Coun. Tek Manhas said he would like to see quotes from business people in North Cowichan in the letter stating how they are impacted.
“I think it would be a powerful addition to the letter for the business people to talk about the ongoing thefts, and the fact that many of their workers are often afraid to leave work at the end of their shifts and need to be escorted to their cars,” he said.
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie suggested that adding quotes from some of the people on the streets in the letter regarding how much trouble it is to find decent housing and drug treatment programs might be helpful.
Coun. Kate Marsh added that information from the medical community on the costs of treating people with addictions should also be in the letter.
The CLG invited Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy to visit the Cowichan Valley in October to see first-hand the problems the Valley is facing.
Following that meeting, a request was presented for provincial funding for temporary treatment facilities and a safe drug supply pilot in Cowichan.
That request was denied in December.