Dave Walsh, the retired RCMP inspector who once headed the Maple Ridge detachment, could be on the job as soon as Wednesday morning, resolving issues regarding the downtown homeless shelter.
He has been hired by the city and will be sworn as a bylaw officer as a response to concerns by the business community and downtown residents about the extension of the homeless shelter’s operation for another nine months. He will be a liaison between residents, businesses, the RainCity shelter operators, RCMP and bylaws, said Ted Swabey, city CAO.
“Dave knows the community quite well, knows the players, knows the issues. We can hit the ground running with a person like that,” Swabey said.
“We’re looking forward to having more resources on the ground to be the interface with the public.”
Just don’t expect him to be the cure for homelessness, cautions Walsh.
“It’s an extremely complicated issue,” he said. “It’s an issue of managing people in crisis.”
He points to the unabated problems in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the lawn encampment at the Victoria courthouse that has been set up since last fall.
“I’m not the saviour who is going to come in and solve homelessness,” he said.
But he can calm the tension, alleviate concerns, and educate people.
“I plan on being down there, on foot, engaged with people from the shelter, businesses and residents,” he said. “I understand the frustration of people in the downtown core.”
“A year ago, Cliff Avenue was a significant issue, and it magnified the need for homeless people to have a place to go,” he said.
The courts have also “chimed in” on the issue, and said communities have an obligation to provide a place for homeless people to be, he said.
“We have to provide something.”
Walsh left the Ridge Meadows RCMP in 2013, and went to E-Division headquarters as a support officer in the Critical Incident Program, which includes divers, dog teams, negotiators, bomb disposal and the Emergency Response Team.
A little over a year ago, in May 2015, he retired. But he has stayed busy. Walsh is an expert in active shooter training, and has offered training sessions for E-Comm emergency communications staff.
He also hits the gym five days a week, runs four days a week to stay in shape, and gets out on his motorcycle and rides his horse.
He’s looking forward to his new position.
“It’ll be interesting and challenging,” he said. “I don’t think the new position is a criticism of the way things have been done. It’s enhanced service delivery.”
There will be a phone line set up for businesses and members of the public to relate their concerns about the homeless shelter, and it will be another point of contact between Walsh and the people he is serving.
However, he cautions that he won’t be on duty 24-7, and the RCMP will still respond to complaints about crime.
“If there is a policing issue, call the police,” he said.
Swabey said the position is a nine-month contract, and the cost should come in at less than the $100,000 estimate.
Walsh was planning to report to city hall on Tuesday, and start in the new role soon after.
“I’ll be boots on the ground mid to late next week.”