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City gives no response to homelessness concerns

City demands shelter close, but no response to pleas from shelter to open Jim Ciccone Civic Centre
Prince Rupert mayor Lee Brain, North Coast Transition Society program manager Grainne Barthe and North Coast Transition Society executive director Christine White announced the location of a new emergency shelter on Nov. 17, 2017. (Matthew Allen/The Northern View)

The City of Prince Rupert has offered no response to the North Coast Transition Society’s request to address Prince Rupert’s homeless situation in light of the current global COVID-19 pandemic, Jennifer Rice, North Coast MLA said.

“I received a phone call from the Minister of Housing on (March 30) informing me that the City of Prince Rupert had just sent a letter to the Province demanding the current shelter be shut down immediately,” Rice told The Northern View.

The North Coast Transition Society reached out to the City for help with a written request on March 24 for an expedited response, to move the homeless shelter during the COVID-19 outbreak, to an auditorium at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre.

“My understanding is that the city has been unresponsive to phone calls, emails and texts from the Transition Society,” Rice said. “The [civic centre] meets all the needs of the [shelter’s] population allowing for social distancing, good hygiene and a location for meal prep.”

READ MORE: VIDEO: Homeless shelter opens with 25 beds

In the letter from March 24, addressed to Lee Brain, mayor and city councillors, the Transition Society expressed deep concern for the homeless adhering to health measures in the midst of pandemic and said it is “impossible”, as they cannot practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings, or even wash their hands as directed to stop the spread of the virus. With 20 mattresses available daily in the current Third Ave. space, there is not the six-foot distance required but rather mattresses are spaced only one foot apart. 

“When we look at the Third Avenue shelter…we can not begin to describe the despair we feel,” Christine White, executive director and Grainne Barthe, program director of NCTS, in the jointly signed letter, said.

“We imagine, you (the City) also realize that between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. there are no bathrooms available to the the homeless population anywhere in Prince Rupert,” the NCTS said.

“Over and over we hear that seniors, individuals with compromised immune systems and chronic illnesses are at the greatest risk of infection with COVID-19. This describes 100 per cent of Prince Rupert’s homeless population,” NCTS said, “We need a better way to meet the needs of this vulnerable group at a time when they are most at risk.”

The NCTS said they have explored several different options that could be quickly implemented, with one being the temporary use of the auditorium at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre. The centre is currently closed and not in use to the public during the pandemic.

READ MORE: Weekend-long tent city protest comes to an end, here’s what happened

The auditorium is accessible with out having to enter the rest of the civic centre and there are adequate numbers of bathrooms. The spacing will allow for mattresses to be placed at appropriate distances, and there is a fire alarm system in place, said the NTCS.

It was committed by the NCTS to have double the staffing, 24-hours-a-day and to clean and disinfect as per the health guidelines. Also promised was to provide three meals a day to the users of the shelter and to work with the City and appropriate authorities to ensure safety.

Rice said the Province is working with BC housing and the NCTS to temporarily shelter people during COVID-19 and they are looking into more permanent locations to situate the shelter. 

“We are striving to meet the immediate needs of this population during COVID-19 and are looking for a more permanent location longer-term. We are very close to having a solution formalized.” 

The City of Prince Rupert has not replied to a request for comment by The Northern View dating back to March 27.

 K-J Millar | Journalist 
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