North Cowichan Mayor Rob Douglas wants to meet David Robertson, chair of the Cowichan District Hospital Foundation, to discuss the issues the CDHF has with the growing problems with unhoused people and substance abuse that is occurring around its office on the corner of James and Garden streets.
At the council meeting Feb. 7, Douglas said he wants to outline with the foundation what North Cowichan is currently doing at the municipal level to respond to issues related to homelessness and street disorder, and get input from the foundation on what they would like to see from the municipality in terms of more actions to deal with the issues, and/or to advocate for or with them with senior levels of government to do more.
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Robertson sent a letter to North Cowichan expressing the foundation’s concerns around the rising number of incidents of unauthorized access, aggressive behaviour, open substance use, vandalism of personal property, and general instability in the vicinity due to unhoused people and/or substance use.
But Ted Swabey, North Cowichan’s CAO, cautioned that all stakeholders have to get past the expectation that there’s any immediate solutions to the problems.
He said much of North Cowichan’s job is managing the expectations and helping to connect the homeless to services as best it can.
“We’ve developed a great relationship with the [Basket Society’s food bank on Garden Street, located next door to the CDHF office] and the work they do is astounding, so we are aware of the patterns that are happening there,” he said.
“Of course, the [emergency weather shelter at the nearby Cowichan Community Centre] has changed those patterns a little, but there were already issues occurring in that area before the shelter was set up at the CCC. We’re doing our best to be there to help support the community and in managing the impacts of the disorder.”
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But Swabey said people have to be careful with their expectations of the results of North Cowichan’s efforts to deal with the issue.
“It’s doesn’t mean that it goes away, it just goes somewhere else,” he said.
“We’re certainly getting to the point, and our social planner is working hard to, maybe, come up with some solutions that are a little bit bold and alternative, but we’ll have to talk about the pros and cons of what we may want to do. Clearly, the advocacy piece with the province for more housing and more services is important because our job is to help manage and connect the street population with services and to help manage the disorder.”
Swabey said he thinks the municipality is doing its best in a very difficult situation, but the street population continues to grow.
“Every community is trying to find creative solutions, and we’ll continue to do that.”