Cranbrook is moving forward with plans to hire a social development position in response to challenges in responding to social issues and challenges experienced by the city’s vulnerable population.
The city already approved $50,000 in municipal funds, while the Regional District of East Kootenay also committed $85,000 during a meeting on Friday, March 17.
The city’s request to the RDEK was for $85,000 over three years from a fund dedicated to supporting a homeless shelter, however, some RDEK board directors balked at the three-year commitment, instead opting to fund only this year to see how the role develops in the coming months.
Cranbrook mayor Wayne Price, along with councillor Norma Blissett — the two Cranbrook directors on the RDEK board — made the case for the funding during a committee meeting on Thursday, March 16.
“We’ve got an emergent situation that we feel is going to be a crisis this summer. We went from 65 homeless two years ago, to 200 last year and they’re all from the region, we’ve established that,” Price said. “We’re expecting 250 to maybe even 300 this summer.
Price added the daily workload from the city’s bylaw department is “75 to 80 per cent” navigating issues associated with homelessness and social services challenges.
“This person [social development position] has to be in the trenches, hands on right now, working for the City of Cranbrook,” Price said.
While there was a consensus that Cranbrook — as the largest urban centre in the East Kootenay — has a wider range of available social services, some RDEK directors wanted financial oversight of its share to ensure that the regional district funding would provide a benefit to the region as a whole.
There was also an general acknowledgement around the board table that the province needs to step up and take a bigger role in responding to housing issues and social service challenges that regional communities are facing.
“While housing, health, and mental health services are all under the jurisdiction of the Province, our vulnerable populations are not being supported and our communities are all feeling the impacts of that,” said Susan Clovechok, RDEK Vice Chair and Area F director, in a news release.
“We fully support the City of Cranbrook in leading this initiative and our hope is that this position will be approved and that it will lead to a meaningful difference, not only for those who are vulnerable and struggling, but for all of our citizens.”
With RDEK funding now secured, Cranbrook city council will make a decision moving forward with the social development position proposal during March 27 meeting.
The social development position was a recommendation that came out of a regional conference in Cranbrook last fall.
The intent of the role is to coordinate with federal and provincial government agencies and identify service gaps on various government and non-profit services that may or may not be available in the city.
It’s part of a two-stage approach by the city to address immediate needs, while also planning on a longer term build-out of supports and resources as administration pursues additional grant funding through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) and other sources.
Pending some of those grant outcomes, the city is hoping to take inspiration from a model developed out of Vernon by setting up a society with an advisory body to address issues beyond just the challenges of the day, according to Mark Fercho, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, who briefed city council during a meeting on Monday, March 13.
“There’s a second stage and that’s where we look a little bit more upstream and broader out into the region, where people are coming from, and also on areas of housing attainability, land use, social planning, shelter services, transitional housing, poverty reduction, community health — all of those other areas, potentially following what’s loosely coined the ‘Vernon model’ which is using a society type of an approach with an advisory body that then directs the society,” Fercho said.
The province recently purchased a property in Cranbrook to serve as a permanent 40-bed homeless shelter and is expected to be in operation later this year following renovations.
Currently, shelter services are operated out of the Cranbrook Travelodge motel by Community Connections Society of Southeast B.C.