Thunderbird Centre discussion dominates second task force meeting

The meeting was held on Aug. 30.

The District of Hope has released the minutes of the second aggressive panhandling strategy task force meeting, which met on Aug. 30 with 10 people attending.

The majority of the discussion centred around services for people in need. Hope and Area Transition Society (HATS) staff reported that the Thunderbird Centre program currently leases its facilities from a private land owner, have two staff on shift until 3 p.m. daily and are operating at full capacity regularly. On Aug. 30, they turned away seven people.

Mayor Wilfried Vicktor said that operating the Thunderbird on leased land “is a concern” because the land could be sold anytime, hence pushing people back onto the street. He said a government-owned facility would help in establishing a long-term plan, but there is a shortage of suitable land and said that a partnership with First Nations bands could be discussed.

Coun. Bob Erickson agreed with Vicktor, saying that a new location is needed so that 30-60 people are not at risk of being back on the street. Coun. Heather Stewin said the task force needs to determine a dollar amount and “really push” the proposal to the provincial government.

Vicktor also said if Hope receives money from the provincial government to re-establish the HOPE Project, HATS might not be chosen as the recipient because contractors might have to go through a bidding process.

The task force also discussed potential solutions including additional staffing and expansion at the Thunderbird Centre; organizing a downtown clean team similar to what the City of Victoria developed, where a team would clean sidewalks, remove refuse and graffiti, and be available for service to local businesses; the installation of tiny portable homes or portable containers to serve as a transition from the Thunderbird Centre or as a housing-first concept, with a security service; and that the new facility should have an “inviting atmosphere that isn’t institutional.”

“People that are seeking assistance must feel welcome, that they matter and have a purpose,” said the minutes.