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Saanich delays creation of homeless task force

Councillor sees gaps in current housing initiatives

What seemed like a straightforward motion to create a Saanich task force for homelessness and affordable housing was met with resistance from council on Monday night.

Coun. Colin Plant said he respects the vote by council, which was 8-1 to postpone any creation of a task force. Plant brought the concept forward from the Healthy Saanich advisory committee he chairs, which fully supported the Gorge Tillicum Community Association report.

“My worry is that by postponing the motion, there’s nothing that says anything will happen now, and that is disappointing for me,” Plant said. “Council is interested but now that might not happen because nothing was put in place. We should have made it more formal by having staff give us a report on where there are gaps in Saanich.”

The creation of the task force came with a related item on Monday’s agenda, to add a social planner to Saanich’s staff. The social planner would be a paid Saanich position to work with the issue of homelessness and housing affordability starting in the 2017 fiscal year and budget. That motion was also postponed.

One issue other councillors had with the creation of a task force was that there are already multiple initiatives underway in the region. Couns. Vicki Sanders and Fred Haynes said a task force for homelessness and housing affordability was reinventing the wheel, while Coun. Vic Derman also questioned the scope of the task force compared to what’s already underway across Greater Victoria. But Plant argued the task force is exactly what is needed to measure what effect the region’s many affordable housing and homelessness initiatives are having on Saanich.

“I appreciate my colleagues wanted more information to see if we needed a task force, but I think that’s why we needed a task force, to see if we need to address these issues,” Plant said. “I respect the vote of council, I just didn’t agree with this vote.”

In the opinion of GTCA president Rob Wickson, who presented to council on behalf of the motion with GTCA member Dr. Trevor Hancock, the report came to council earlier than he anticipated. Wickson says he’s confident progress can still be made.

The report lists ongoing areas where homeless people take shelter in Saanich and a desire to include homeless people in the feedback and strategy planning. There are homeless people who choose to stay away from the social services available downtown, Plant said, and providing social services in Saanich would be welcome.

“Even if the task force was created just to talk to other organizations doing this work, council would know more,” Plant said. “I’m not saying this group would make rocket-science discoveries, just measure what is happening and how it affects Saanich, what’s working, what’s coming and what’s missing.”

Councillors picked the report apart saying it’s just too broad. Trying to include the mental health and addiction issues often attached to homelessness is its own area, while housing affordability is another, said Sanders.