Opinion

RADIA: Don’t force it on a community

Tri-City News
Tri-City News' contributor Andy Radia
— image credit: tri-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

Last Monday, Port Coquitlam city council voted in favour of allowing a temporary homeless shelter to operate out of Grace Church on Kingsway Avenue in January.

It’s part of this region’s cold/wet weather mat program — which has been in existence in some form since 2007 — that provides emergency shelter to the homeless during the winter months. This year, the shelter will rotate between three churches, with homeless patrons being picked up and delivered to the shelter by bus.

I understand that council had little choice but to approve the shelter but I’m not comfortable with it.

Don’t get me wrong. This is policy measure that is both laudable and necessary. But councils have an obligation to pay attention to the concerns of residents. And in this case, the concerns are real.

Last summer, according to The Tri-City News, a number of area residents complained about what the so-called bridge shelter did to their community. Businesses and individuals complained about homeless people loitering and even doing drugs in their neighbourhoods.

“This is our home and we have to live with these decisions,”  Christy McDonald, a resident in the area told The News. “We are sick of it.”

To its credit, Port Coquitlam city council has put in some safeguards this time around that should mitigate some of those problems. But the fact remains that these shelters could negatively affect a community’s well-being, maybe its security and perhaps even its property values.

Again, contrary to what my colleague opposite might suggest, we conservatives aren’t evil. I’m not saying let’s keep the homeless on the streets; I’m saying governments need to come up with better alternatives.

I applaud Tri-City municipal governments and community organizations spearheading shelter programs, developing outreach plans and stocking food banks. And I can’t wait to see the permanent shelter at 3030 Gordon Ave. in Coquitlam become operational.

Yes, more needs to be done. We obviously need more money for affordable housing, mental health and addiction services.

Call it NIMBY-ism if you’d like but we can’t keep forcing homeless shelters on communities that don’t want them.

In 2014, I hope our cities’ councillors can come up with other solutions. I suggest that they start working those solutions now.

 

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