by Owen Munro, Contributor
Randy Hawes thinks there’s a better way to deal with the issue of homelessness.
Mission’s mayor says there are not enough necessary resources to properly react to the current and complex issues facing not just Mission, but several communities in the Fraser Valley.
While there is an influx of homeless people migrating west, there’s also the dilemma of housing affordability that is wreaking havoc on people who already live in the community.
He says Mission’s situation is a scenario more and more communities are will be facing if more isn’t done. They are seeing a wide spectrum of people on the streets – anything from people who have fallen on hard times and are looking for a way to get back on their feet to drug addicts who are being failed by the system.
Hawes says the combination of those factors has put a strain on front-line resources which aren’t equipped to react to what he describes as a “real crisis.”
But he also says a lot of those resources and programming allocated by health authorities and the provincial government don’t fit the true needs of both homeless people and those with addiction issues.
“The question we have to ask is, ‘Are things getting any better?’ ” Hawes said. “I’m hard-pressed to say there’s been an improvement. Frankly, if all you put in place are harm reduction strategies … to be blunt, you’re enabling people.
“We’re not asking for 5,000 housing units like some other cities, we’re not reinventing the wheel. We are looking at finding solutions.”
Mission isn’t unique in the situation it faces with homelessness; it’s one that is exacerbated in places across the Fraser Valley.
A 2017 homeless count conducted by the Fraser Valley Regional District shows Abbotsford and Chilliwack are home to 492 homeless people alone, and Hawes predicts it’s much higher than that.
The district is also undertaking its own assessments of the homeless population in order to get a better account of how many people are currently in need of care or services.
Hawes says Mission is at the forefront of taking a new approach that he believes better suits the needs of the current homeless population. He’s also quick to recognize the job done by organizations like Stone Soup and the ACT team, as well as the RCMP.
“We are proposing something quite different,” he said. “Long-term care and housing should be the idea. There are shelters in residential areas that are making a difference.
“It seems like such a simple concept and yet government so far has not accepted it.”
There are dozens of people who prefer to live in the bush, Hawes says, and in the summer some of them migrate back into the community.
That puts more of a strain on shelters, and he argues more programming that treats people should be connected to non-profit shelters such as Last Door Recovery Society.
Those facilities should see improved funding and recovery models in order to make a marked difference.
He’s also hopeful that the new NDP government follows through on a planned $15 million, 40-unit transitional housing and shelter space that the former Liberal government announced in March.
Hawes says that will go a long way to address short-term needs, but he is still concerned about a long-term outlook for the city.
Kirsten Hargreaves, Mission’s manager of social development, says the community is at the forefront of a lot initiatives, pointing to the diverse amount of resources they have worked hard to bring in.
She points to MAST (Mission Active Support Table) as an example of providing a proactive response to social issues that often result in calls to police.
A number of the RCMP detachment’s total calls are to deal with things such as substance abuse and mental health.
She says MAST works in collaboration with service providers in Mission to identify risks before incidents occur.
It’s a model that was adopted in Prince Albert, Sask. and is in more than 50 communities nationwide.
“The purpose of MAST is to address people before they land in crisis,” Hargreaves said.
“It’s quite different than your typical social services model and we have had them come out and train in the community.
“We have a collaborative team approach that quite literally shows up on people’s doorsteps or camps and they say, ‘We’re here to help you.
“We don’t want you fall through the cracks.’ ”
Hargreaves says Mission and Surrey are the only two cities in the province to implement such as a strategy.
She, too, is excited for the change in government and what that will mean in tackling substantive issues such as mental health and addictions.
Hargreaves even says her position is unique. The manager of social development position is one she often has communities inquiring about as they look for ways to deal with their own social issues.
“We’re actually becoming a model for other communities. Now places like Prince George and Williams Lake are looking to us,” Hargreaves says.
“Having a social development person is unique. My role is really a liaison position with agencies to make things happen.
“We’ve been getting more and more calls from communities across Canada asking, ‘What is this job and how do we put it in place?’ ”
She says there are always going to be opportunities for Mission to improve its approach and strategies to homelessness, but she is proud of the work already being done on the front lines to help make that a reality.
“We have all the community pieces in place but without the physical infrastructure we can only do so much.”