Locals raise concerns over housing project in Hope

Hope RCMP says the Thunderbird isn't a cause of crime

The Thunderbird Motel Project is once again raising concerns among local residents.

Nathalie Giroux and Lori Schofield feel the community should have been consulted prior to the new homeless emergency shelter opening on the property in June.

“They’re not asking the residents of Silver Creek if they want this in their backyards, which appalls me because they should be,” said Giroux, who addressed council last week.

“Whenever the town has these types of projects that they want to implement in our community, they should have a public forum to allow people to speak out and be able to voice their opinions.”

Giroux and Schofield aren’t against the Thunderbird project in principle, but believe more needs to be done to ensure clients are getting the proper support. They want to see a zero-tolerance policy in place when it comes to drugs and alcohol, full-time staffing on site, education and job opportunities offered, and mandatory background checks for all clients. Schofield also supports a curfew at the Thunderbird.

“I think what they’re trying to do is a really good thing and I would like to see all these people get help. But I see them offering a bandaid,” said Schofield.

“These people need some guidance and some rules. I also believe for the ones out there that are trying to help themselves, it’s pretty hard to do when you have others that have no intentions whatsoever of heading in that direction.”

Giroux and Schofield are also worried about the safety of neighbouring residents. However, Staff Sgt. Suki Manj said Hope RCMP has found no direct link between crime and the Thunderbird. Of the 14 prolific offenders currently in Hope, only one resides at the motel.

“The Thunderbird isn’t a cause of crime in our view,” said Manj.

“Crime is going to happen anywhere people live. A lot of these people that live at Thunderbird have different challenges. When they’re out on their own without any support, it’s difficult for us as police officers to provide them with any assistance.”

Police recently targeted the Silver Creek area following a property crime spike between June 26 and July 6.

Manj said the RCMP solved 80 per cent of those crimes, either through charges or by identifying the suspects. None of the involved criminals turned out to be residents of the Thunderbird.

The Thunderbird Motel Project was launched in September 2009 through an agreement between Hope & Area Transition Society and the motel owner. The low-barrier housing initiative was developed to help individuals facing challenges maintain permanent housing. It is not considered a treatment centre, but offers people experiencing chronic homelessness an opportunity to live in an environment that is supportive and inclusive, while fostering various levels of independence.

“The motel owner was renting to that client group with no support services in place before we came in,” said Gerry Dyble, executive director of Hope & Area Transition Society.

“They now have case management, goals and they’re accountable every day.”

The Thunderbird still runs as a regular motel with no government funding, which ultimately constricts the amount of support that can be provided through programs and services. Upon arrival, clients sign an agreement with the motel owner under the Residential Tenancy Act and are responsible for paying monthly rent.

“It’s taking those chronic at-risk people off the street and housing them,” said Dyble.

“These people have rights just like anybody else. They deserve a place to live and they deserve the opportunities that are given to them. We don’t judge anybody’s background.”

Mayor Susan Johnston pointed out that Fraser Health Authority, along with other communities in the region, are now looking to the Thunderbird as a model to address homelessness. Since the program is not district-run, she said there’s no mandate for council to be involved in advising a community organization how to do business.

“We’ve done our due diligence and, at the end of the day, have determined that it is in fact a good program that is giving people help and at the same time allowing them to police themselves,” she said.

“We’re a governing body, so there’s nothing to cover this kind of situation and I don’t think there should be.”