Maple Ridge mayor wants homelessness talks

Seeking federal dollars for summit to be held next spring

Maple Ridge council is aiming to lead the conversation about homelessness with two high-profile events – a mayor’s summit and a community dialogue.

Politicians agreed Monday that staff will seek $75,000 to $100,000 from the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy so Maple Ridge can host a mayor’s summit.

Mayor Nicole Read said she has spoken with Metro Vancouver mayors about the proposed event, which would be called “The Summit for Cities on Homelessness: Strengthening Regional and Sub-Regional Approaches.”

The response from her counterparts has been encouraging, she said.

It would be the first region-wide summit of its kind, and would take place in spring 2017.

The Homelessness Partnering Strategy offers $600 million over a five-year period for programs aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness.

The objective of the summit would be to develop a regional position on homelessness, examine the causes that are putting more people on to the streets and create coordinated action.

“It is time that regional leaders sat together to talk about an issue that is having a profound impact on our communities,” said Read.

“Each community is facing significant costs associated with policing, bylaws and community impacts and there needs to be a strong regional voice to advocate for the resources to deal with this issue.

“This dialogue is long overdue.”

Kelly Swift, general manager of community development, said much of the money would be used to hire a facilitator to help organize the summit, if it is approved.

Coun. Corisa Bell said the summit should be of “substantial value” and wants to see the issue of low barrier facilities – where drug use is permitted – on the table.

“I know the community would very much appreciate having a conversation around low barrier, regardless of where you stand on the issue or where the province stands on it, there needs to be conversation around the low barrier and what it means…”

Staff said that is the kind of topic that might be raised at the community dialogue on homelessness. That will be a separate initiative organized by the city’s social policy advisory committee and it would include a speaker’s series. The sessions would be free, open to the public, with a minimum of five sessions.

The committee anticipates “significant community consultation” will be needed before a purpose-built homeless facility is built.

The estimated cost is $10,000 for the speaker’s series and administrative support for a sub-committee to organize the community dialogue. The social planning advisory committee has a $10,000 budget which has not been allocated, which will be used for this purpose.

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