The federal funding gap that cost Maple Ridge its street outreach workers late last year is being filled by the city for at least six months.
Council approved hiring four street outreach workers for six months, at a cost of $160,000, on Tuesday.
The Alouette Home Start Society, which used to hire two outreach workers, lost most of its funding Dec. 31, after the federal government changed to the Housing First model, which puts money into providing homes for street people, rather than emergency services.
As a result, Alouette pared its outreach services from two full-time positions to a half-time job, and closed the emergency bed part of its Iron Horse Youth Safe House on Jan. 31.
While the Home Start society now has provincial funding for one worker to help youth, women, people leaving institutions and aboriginals, executive-director Stephanie Ediger said the loss of the general outreach workers, who connect with anyone on the street, “has resulted in a lot of needs that need to be addressed, that we need additional resources.”
The number of homeless people hasn’t increased, but they are now more visible, she added.
“The numbers of visible homeless have increased because there’s no place to go.”
Ediger doesn’t know if Alouette will be hiring the workers using the city’s funds.
“I have no information on that, at this point. We haven’t been in the discussions.”
In addition to approving money for outreach workers, council approved another recommendation from the Mayor’s Homelessness Solutions Task Force, to pay $75,000 for a consultant to recommend how to improve delivery of social services in Maple Ridge.
Another $65,000 will pay for a staff position to coordinate five teams that have been formed by the homelessness task force, while $25,000 will go to improving security.
The money comes from the city’s protective services reserve account.
Mayor Nicole Read said the announcements are just part of what the task force has done since being formed in January.
“This is a fraction of what the task force is comprised of. It’s a very big task force.”
Soon, the task force will unveil its overall plan to deal with homelessness.
While the Alouette Home Start Society has been the agency that previously hired the outreach workers, Ediger doesn’t know if the society will be involved in hiring the four outreach workers.
She said she’s contacted the task force, but hasn’t heard back. The society has a good collaborative relationship with the city.
“But we’re hoping they will call us. Our experience and our track record and everything, with that we may be able to contribute productively to the discussion.”
An action plan is soon to be announced to show how the task force will achieve its goals of increasing access to treatment for drug addicts, more help for the mentally ill and improving community safety.
Five teams, focused on: street action; prevention and education; shelter; enforcement; and community standards. They will advise the task force.
A staff report says the discovery phase of the task force is now done and there are now preliminary findings.
“We have put a lot of time into really looking at what’s going on in the community,” said Read.
• There’s a gap in services, such as accessing detoxification, drug and addiction treatment and housing. The task force will try to identify where those gaps are when the various agencies involved have a workshop.
• The federal government’s shift to its Housing First programs caused a shortage of outreach workers to help street people get connected to services.
• As the city removes derelict old shacks, street people have fewer places to take shelter, increasing visibility. The situation has resulted in the recommendation to hire three street outreach workers which has now increased to four.
• Hiring a consultant to identify social services that exist in Maple Ridge, as well as the gaps in that service
After meetings, discussions and tours of the downtown, the task force finds that people are falling through the cracks.
“People who want and need services often experience significant gaps, putting them at risk and compromising recovery,” says a report to council.
The loss of outreach workers, people who make face-to-face connections with people on the street and connect them to services, has aggravated the situation.
Without them, it’s “unlikely” street people can quickly access detox or housing services, says the report.
There are 84 people classed as homeless, with 30 of those having no shelter, according to the 2014 Homeless Count.