New Westminster is getting some assistance from senior governments in its efforts to help local service organizations better support vulnerable people.
The province’s ministry of municipal affairs has announced that dozens of B.C. communities are receiving funding to provide increased local services in response to homelessness. New Westminster is receiving $446,083 in joint provincial and federal funding for several actions, including enhanced drop-in programs, meal services, and outreach for people experiencing homelessness in the city.
According to the province, New Westminster’s proposed plan would apply an Indigenous lens to service delivery and will seek input from people with lived and living experience.
“The pandemic has highlighted existing issues of inequality that contribute to homelessness,” Richmond-Queensborough MLA Aman Singh said in a news release. “As we continue our strong recovery, this funding is one of many actions we’re taking to ensure the most vulnerable in our community are supported now and into the future.”
New Westminster MLA Jennifer Whiteside said the investment is part of the Strengthening Communities program, which is providing support to 48 communities across B.C.
“Our government is working to address homelessness from all angles, including creating more supportive and affordable housing,” she said in an Aug. 12 press release. “Today’s announcement will mean better services will be available to people on the ground, so they can stay healthier and safer while accessing supports.”
John Stark, the city’s supervisor of community planning, said the City of New Westminster applied for funding for a number of activities and projects that meet the eligibility of the Strengthening Communities program.
Funding has been approved for the following programs:
* The digital inclusion initiative, a partnership between the city, Douglas College and the Purpose Society, has received $15,000. The pandemic has highlighted challenges related digital exclusion for many people, particularly those who are homeless, at a time when more and more services and information have moved online and require access to devices like smart phones or tablets.
“The partnership has been quite successful in accessing and distributing electronic devices and would like to use these funds to enhance access to the Internet, through the installation of portable antennas and Wi-Fi boosters; expand the reach of the digital inclusion hub, which offers one-on-one support and training; and increase charging capacity in the city through the installation of public charging infrastructure,” said a report about the city’s grant requests.
* Maida Duncan Drop-In Centre, operated by the Elizabeth Fry Society, has received $50,000 to provide enhanced social support, advocacy and case management interventions at the drop-in service for women, which has been operating for more than 20 years and is open seven days a week.
“Given the pandemic, demand for service has spiked, with about 275 visits per month,” said the report. “This funding would enable the centre to meet the increasing demand, while reducing the financial burden on the society related to the pandemic.”
* Newcomer feeding the homeless pilot project, offered by MOSAIC, will receive $50,000 to establish a hot meal program that connects newcomers, who are experiencing social isolation and are in need of training and work experience, with those who are experiencing homelessness.
* The Purpose Society will receive $51,465 for the health contact centre liaison and outreach initiative. A health contact centre, which includes safe consumption site, opened at 40 Begbie St., in response to the increasing number of illicit drug overdose deaths in New Westminster.
“As evidence, there were 35 in 2020, compared to 20 in 2019 and only nine in 2014,” said the report. “Given that this is a new service, this project would expand community outreach capacity. More specifically, it would facilitate liaison with business and resident associations; address potential business and resident concerns related to public drug use and discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia; and raise awareness about the centre and the services offered among those using illicit drugs.”
* The I's on the Street program, operated by the New Westminster Homelessness Coalition Society, has received funding for expanded offerings and pilot projects – $28,440 for Sapperton I's on the Street, $49,404 for Downtown I's on the Street and $49,986 for Uptown I's on the Street. Established in 2010, the street-cleaning service offers employment and work experience to people dealing with homelessness and mental illness, while contributing to the upkeep of the neighbourhood.
“Given the increased presence of human waste and litter associated with the pandemic, the result of limited access to toilet facilities and the move to takeaway meals, the program would expand its coverage, hours and scope to address business and resident concerns,” said the report. “The program would also expand its intake, thus enabling more people to receive training and to have the opportunity to transition into employment.”
* The New Westminster Police Department has received $10,000 for its vulnerable persons liaison officers enhanced outreach initiative. The police department has designated two constables as vulnerable persons liaison officers, whose role is to take a conciliatory and problem-solving approach to addressing social issues, such as homelessness, addictions and mental illness, rather than an enforcement approach.
“This includes forging relationships with and gaining the trust of those who are at-risk and vulnerable; working with homeless outreach workers; and liaising with business and resident associations. Based on a recent pilot, a bridge to forming relationships and trust is the provision of food items, including meal vouchers; hygiene products; new socks and underwear; and other essentials,” said the report. “The grant funds would be used to purchase such items for distribution by the officers.”
* The New Westminster Homelessness Coalition Society has received $17,799 for homelessness coordination services. The coalition, which includes representation from more than 20 faith-based and non-profit organizations, is receiving funding to help it work with the city’s COVID-19 at-risk and vulnerable populations task force, to facilitate responses to homelessness involving faith-based and non-profit organizations and to coordinate food security planning and programming.
* The New West Hospice Society is receiving $27,000 to do advanced care planning for the homeless. With these funds, the society will retain the services of a health-care professional who, with a local homeless outreach worker, would establish trust with people experiencing homelessness, have conversations with them, record their wishes and store this information for future reference.
* The City of New Westminster and the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition are receiving $20,000 for a community action network planning framework, which is working to increase the involvement of people with lived and living experience in homelessness and poverty in civic planning, policy development and decision-making processes. Recently, 10 participants learned about advocacy, committee functioning, community organizing, public speaking, and storytelling in a seven-week leadership training program.
“The city would like to engage program graduates, including informing homelessness needs assessment, which is currently underway, and a homelessness action strategy, which is scheduled to commence in September 2021,” said the report. “The city, with the coalition, would also like to explore active-listening circles, where program graduates would help inform strategies to address business and resident concerns regarding homelessness. The funding would compensate program graduates as subject matter experts, and facilitate additional training to expand the learning network and engagement opportunities.”
* Lookout Housing and Health Society is getting $77,008 for an Urban Indigenous Away from Home training program. The report states that Indigenous people are over-represented among those who are homeless, and they face barriers and challenges in accessing services to assist them and face discrimination within the health and social services sector, which deters access and erodes trust.
“The project, which is a partnership between Lookout, the Musqueam First Nation and the Spirit of the Children Society, would offer a training program which aims to develop understanding, increase capacity and promote positive partnerships, as well as cultivating meaningful relationships and trust, between social service providers and urban indigenous homeless persons,” said the report. “The curriculum would be developed and offered by renowned Indigenous elders from the Musqueam First Nation and the PHSA San’yas Core ICS Training Group, and would include cedar brushing ceremonies, cultural safety education, healing circles and unbreakable wellness.”