City of Langley unveils homelessness strategy

Task force’s series of 19 recommendations not a solution, but a start, says committee chair, Coun. Gayle Martin

Langley City Coun. Gayle Martin chaired the municipality's task force on homelessness, which tabled its findings at Monday's meeting. Martin said some of the conversations she had with members of the homeless community left her in tears.

A comprehensive new plan to tackle homelessness in the City of Langley won’t solve the issue, but it could begin to, according to the councillor who chaired the task force that created it.

“As much as we’d like to say we could snap our fingers and then it’s done, we can’t,” said Coun. Gayle Martin.

The report, which included input from members of the community —  both the City and Township — was originally intended to take a few months to compile but, due to the complicated nature of the homeless issue, ended up taking 14 months before it was ready to present to council Monday night.

Homelessness is becoming increasingly visible in the City, with an apparent swelling of the population in recent years.

A 2002 count found 22 people living on the streets of both the Township and City of Langley. A similar count found 94 individuals in 2014.

This included only people encountered on the streets on one given day, and is believed to be significantly lower than the actual figure.

Part of the process of compiling the report involved interviewing members of Langley’s homeless population, which Martin said left her in tears at times, while hearing some of their stories.

The report recommends 19 potential initiatives that could help get people off the streets or at least make their lives easier.

Martin did not want to make a vow to end homelessness completely, as Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson did when said in 2008 his city would have no street homelessness by 2015.

Martin said there is a great amount of compassion on her council and she is confident that much can be done, but the City needs more help from all levels of government.

“We can’t do it all,” she said.

“We’re doing our best.”

The report identifies six key priorities, only three of which can be addressed by the City without action from other levels of government. These are: creating a partnership agreement with the Township; forming a homelessness action table which could work in committee to propose new municipal, legislation; and form a homelessness integration team.

The other three priorities which would require action outside the City’s jurisdiction are: an increase in rent supplements — which the City can only advocate for to B.C. Housing; more integrated intervention for health issues from Fraser Health; and a Fraser Valley regional homelessness table, which could identify a co-operative strategy between the area’s municipalities.

The report has been sent to the City’s public safety advisory committee, to come up with concrete recommendations to bring to council for approval.

Martin said this long process has been a challenge for all involved but will ultimately be rewarding if it helps Langley’s homeless population.

“This is not going to be the answer,” she said. “It’s a start.”

More information can be found on the City of Langley website.

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