Speirs gains insight on trees, homelessness

Councillors attended FCM in Halifax

Plant a tree, save the earth.

Plant a tree close to the street and it can do its best, filtering out pollutants, absorbing greenhouse gases and conserving storm water.

“The bigger the tree, the more storm water it absorbs and the more pollution it absorbs,” Coun. Craig Speirs said following the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention in Halifax.

Speirs sat in on a session titled Trees, Soil, Rainwater: The Foundation of Sustainable Infrastructure, by DeepRoot Canada. It showed how silva cells allow trees to be planted in cityscapes without fears of roots heaving up sidewalks and roads after a few decades.

Maple Ridge’s recent renovation of 224th Street even was mentioned to the Canada-wide audience as a good example. Silva cells are underground barriers and boxes that channel tree roots away from expensive infrastructure.

That cuts costs to municipalities because they constantly don’t have to replace sidewalks or trees, Speirs pointed out.

Trees also help homeowners, not only by providing shade and windbreaks, but with the bottom line, as well. Homes with mature trees outside gave their owners a higher price.

Speirs also caught a panel discussion on homelessness presented by experts from across Canada and the U.S. titled Housing first: Breaking the costly cycle of chronic homelessness.

One of the takeaway messages from that was the sooner a homeless person gets help, the better.

That means getting that person into a permanent home, with supportive counselling, as soon as possible.

That could mean skipping the lengthy steps of first getting sent to a shelter, spending time there, then moving to supportive housing, before finally a homeless gets his or her own permanent place.

The description of the session says short-term solutions have proven ineffective and expensive. Instead, it described a “Housing First,” strategy.

“It’s quite pronounced how much money it saves,” Speirs said.

Locally, agencies such as the Salvation Army’s Caring Place can be the first, but short-term contact for people struggling with mental illness or drug abuse issues. “It has to the be the choice of the homeless person,” said Speirs.

He added that emergency shelters have come to replace mental health services. “Jails are becoming de facto mental health institutions.”

He pointed out that Calgary has a 10-year plan to eliminate homelessness.

“All in all, it was very productive session.”

Speirs, along with Coun. Linda King, attended the conference that drew councillors from cities across Canada.

Maple Ridge allocates $10,000 a year in its budget for councillors to attend the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference and $8,000 a year for the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference.

Councillors are entitled to $75 a day pocket money for meals and expenses however if meals are provided at an event, that amount is deducted from the daily allowance.

They also have to pre-book their flights to get the cheapest fares. Accommodation is also covered within the $10,000.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean and Coun. Doug Bing also attended the conference.