by Dan Ferguson and Monique Tamminga
Shortly after Langley RCMP Supt. Murray Power told more than 200 people at Wednesday night’s forum on homelessness that the issue was the “number one call for service” at the detachment and that “there is no silver bullet (solution to the problem) available to us at this time,” Randal Dickinson stepped up to the floor microphone to comment on the way homeless people like him are treated.
Dickinson said he has been arrested and jailed twice this year, simply for being homeless.
“That’s no way to treat people,” he said.
Dickinson said he would like to see some of the government money that goes to resettle refugees used to help people in his situation.
Outside the forum, he said he lives under a bridge and gets money by making wine that he sells to other homeless people.
“People are tired of being addicted. They want help and there is no help for them. Put your money into that,” he told the panel.
The forum was organized by Langley MLA Mary Polak, who sat on a panel with Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag, Langley City mayor Ted Schaffer and Power.
Not Just a City Issue
Schaffer said the City brokered a deal to get people out of a homeless camp near 208 Street and Fraser Highway by opening 30 mats at the Gateway of Hope. The worry is that the camp is in an area that floods.
“Thirty mats is not the solution. Until we get a shelter that is all-encompassing, it’s not going away,” Schaffer said. “Thirty mats is temporary.”
In an earlier interview with Schaffer, he said the mats are full already bu t many of the people using them are not from the floodplain camp.
Schaffer said homelessness should not be viewed exclusively as a Langley City problem.
“If the Township thinks they don’t have a problem, they are sadly mistaken,” he remarked. “The City can’t do it all. Maybe it should be population based. If you have a population of 100,000, you have to have 100 beds, for example.”
The first person to speak at the event, Sheila Hall, who lives next to the homeless camp near 208 Street and Fraser Highway, said she doesn’t walk through that park in the evenings anymore “because of vagrants who have taken over and make me feel as though I’m the intruder.”
Polak, whose father lives in an apartment near the camp, said she is well versed in the challenges and safety concerns residents are having in that area.
“On one hand we have taxpayers who have the right to enjoy public spaces and on the other hand we have individuals who have nowhere else to go but live in parks. What is the balance? We are seeking that answer,” said Polak.
ACT Team for Langley?
Polak hinted the provincial government may be willing to fund the ACT outreach team the City has been lobbying for, one that would help the homeless find housing.
“There’s a lot of funding available” in the form of rental subsidies and subsidized housing,” Polak said.
Derek Weiss, who works at the Union Gospel Mission on the Downtown Eastside, described a frightening development with respect to homelessness.
“What is scaring us is we are seeing more and more people coming to us who don’t arrive with mental health issues, who don’t have addictions, but who are working on minimum wage and just can’t afford rent,” said Weiss.
“Then they stay with us and their mental state deteriorates.”
He said the extreme cost of housing in Metro Vancouver, a stagnant minimum wage and low shelter allowance will continue to raise the number of people who are homeless.
Currently, a single person is given a $375 shelter allowance.
One Langley City woman said she may be homeless come November, when her subsidized housing unit is bulldozed to make way for condos.
“Back in 1982, the shelter allowance in B.C. was $275. It’s only gone up $100. I’ve been told that those who run subsidized housing just can’t afford to keep them because they have no support.”
Part of the evening was set aside for the politicians to listen to ideas from the public.
A Rotary club member suggested that a low-barrier shelter open in downtown Langley, acting as a drop-in centre without the rules that deter some from going to Gateway.
Schaffer said some homeless people have suggested to him that a 10-acre plot of land be purchased where people could “work the land (and) have a place to call home.”
Aldag said he will try to tap into $20 billion of federal money to help Langley. “I just want to make sure the money goes to the right place,” he said.
Make the Call, Police Urge
“We aren’t going to arrest our way out of homelessness,” said Power.
However, he urged residents and business owners to call when someone is sleeping on their step, or on their property.
“We are so Canadian, we don’t want to bother the police. It’s our job to keep the peace,” he said. Earlier, Power noted that RCMP get four to five calls a day about the issue.
What About the Youth?
Several members of the audience, including a school trustee and the District PAC president reminded the audience that youth on the streets should be a priority to help. Currently, it is their own peers who are the only ones doing
anything about the increased amount of teens without a safe place to call home.
“Don’t lose sight of stopping the cycle,” suggested City councillor Paul Albrecht. “getting to our youth, getting to them at school, that is so important.”
Trustee Rosemary Wallace asked when a safe house is being opened in Langley for youth?
“The Township is looking at a safe house for youth but I don’t know the details,” said Schaffer.
“The conversation is live,” said Polak. “But the how, when and where isn’t there yet.”
A teen-led fundraiser held last month raised more than $12,000 for a youth shelter. Another fundraiser held by some local women is also expected to bring in more than $10,000.
Polak promised the audience that the panel would meet to discuss the suggestions brought up during the forum and bring some of the solutions to their respective government bodies with hopes that more supports and changes will come for Langley.
“But let’s make no mistake. This is not for the faint of heart.
“We will be looking at short and long term solutions but it’s not going to end homelessness.”
The province is creating 2,900 new subsidized units throughout B.C., but Polak said they haven’t allocated where those beds will go.
Photo below: Members of the panel: Polak, Aldag, Schaffer and Power.