New Westminster will contribute financially to the well-being of vulnerable citizens in the community – but it wants the province to help out as well.
Council recently approved allocating $16,620 to two task forces created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The money, which supports the at-risk and vulnerable populations and seniors and person with disabilities task forces until the end of 2020, will go toward: the provision of three portable toilets ($12,000); professional counselling services to support volunteers of the Friendly Caller Program ($600); costs related to hall rental for a food hamper program ($720); costs related to pick-up and delivery of food hampers when staff are not available ($500); personal protective equipment to safeguard volunteers and enable food security programs to operate ($800); and unanticipated costs based on emergent issues and needs ($2,000).
John Stark, the city’s supervisor of community planning, said the funds will cover some of the ongoing expenses related to services that have been helping vulnerable community members during the pandemic.
According to a report to council, the Pacific Region Emergency Response Centre covered some of the pandemic-related costs, including the placement of portable toilets throughout the city, but that funding ended on July 31. The report noted the task forces are continuing to incur pandemic-related costs, but there’s no dedicated city funding source for this purpose.
“In anticipation of this funding ending, staff has scaled back some of its response efforts, including reducing the number of portable toilets to three, and informing faith-based and non-profit organizations that pandemic-related costs would no longer be covered by PREOC,” said the report. “Additionally, the number of staff assigned to resourcing the task forces has been significantly reduced as civic facilities and services are phased back into operation.”
Stark told council there is still a “real need” for the portable toilets.
“We have a lot of businesses and residents who have expressed concern around human waste and other issues in the downtown,” he said, “so they are meeting the need – particularly with faith facilities still closed, based on non-profit organizations having limited access and also businesses limiting their washrooms to paying customers.”
While the funding will help address these expenses until the end of the year, Stark said staff hope the province will become more involved and cover some of these expenses going forward.
“If not, there will be impacts on that at-risk and vulnerable population,” he said.
Council directed staff to hold discussions with the province to secure funding for ongoing pandemic-related costs associated with addressing the needs of at-risk and vulnerable populations in New Westminster.
“If there is a second wave of the pandemic in the fall, the requested funds will likely be insufficient to address pandemic-related needs associated with at-risk and vulnerable populations,” said the staff report.
Given the significant economic and employment restructuring associated with the pandemic, staff believe that issues such as food insecurity and homelessness will continue to deepen long after the pandemic and municipalities will require senior government funding to offset the costs of dealing with these issues.