A concern over individual community’s contribution to a regional homelessness problem was not enough to derail support for a Selkirk College-led project designed for the streets.
Called Bridging Rural Homelessness and Well-Being Project, it builds off of the social innovation project, Rural Homelessness and COVID-19, where street outreach services, provided by Selkirk nursing students, were delivered in Nelson, Trail and Castlegar.
The focus of the three-year project will be on the regional centres because that is where the services are stationed, said Jayme Jones of Selkirk College during the last city council regular meeting.
“The core idea behind the current proposal is that a regional response is required to address homelessness in the region,” she said. “To make a strong program you need regional buy-in.”
The college requested the city partner with it in the proposed project and — if the college’s funding was approved — that it provide a cash contribution of $7,500, in-kind support of up to $7,500 and a letter of support regarding the project proposal — all of which city council eventually approved.
Jones said the college was requesting the same assistance from the cities of Castlegar and Trail. If all three cities stepped up it would provide the funds to “leverage additional to support a student nurse to do street outreach in the summer months for the next three years,” Jones explained.
The college had not yet approached the regional districts in the area (RDCK, RDKB) for support, instead focusing on establishing partnerships with Nelson, Trail and Castlegar first.
Coun. Rik Logtenberg wanted to see more than just the cities involved since the problem was “pervasive” in the area.
“We see the challenge of homelessness as a regional challenge here, certainly not just the responsibility or in the domain of the cities,” he said, referring to the potential involvement of the two encompassing regional districts, Central Kootenay and Kootenay Boundary.
Coun. Cal Renwick said an ongoing council sentiment on many issues of a regional scale was that the city needed more regional support behind it and not have to go it alone. He proposed an amendment to the motion of support wanting it to read that the city would give its approval only if Trail and Castlegar were in, coupled with a strong ask of the same to the RDCK and RDKB.
Coun. Jesse Woodward did not think it was necessary to tie the hands of the project that way.
“Jayme and Selkirk College are trying to do something that we desperately need in our area and, to kill a project like that because we don’t get total buy-in, it is very dangerous. I think we need to support these kinds of efforts. We have a huge poverty problem in this area — it is extremely expensive and it is only getting more expensive, as we know.
“We really need to support organizations like this. Selkirk College is offering to do this work and we should support them to do this.”
The amendment failed and the original motion for support passed.
The college is submitting a funding proposal to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada’s Community and College Social Innovation Fund to support the project.
“The money is specifically for college-based social innovation projects carried out in partnership with community organizations, including local governments,” a city staff report noted.
“The college will contribute capacity through faculty and student resources,” Jones offered.
She had asked for support in-kind from the city via Development Services to participate at the proposed annual West Kootenay Homelessness Response Summit and quarterly Advisory Team to share City of Nelson perspectives and evolving priorities, help guide the research project direction to ensure it meets community partner evolving needs, and strengthen relationships with others in the region also addressing homelessness.
There were questions about contributing staff time for in-kind support but Coun. Keith Page volunteered his time to partake in the summit, if the project went ahead.
“If we are successful with this funding request, the project would start fall 2022, so there will be time to re-evaluate and plan for this time once we know the project will go ahead,” said Jones.