ANKORS East Kootenay held a march in Cranbrook on Monday, August 31, 2020 for Overdose Awareness Day. They marched from the Cranbrook ANKORS location to City Hall, where there was a peaceful protest out front. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)

ANKORS East Kootenay held a march in Cranbrook on Monday, August 31, 2020 for Overdose Awareness Day. They marched from the Cranbrook ANKORS location to City Hall, where there was a peaceful protest out front. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)

BC Housing, ANKORS respond to crime, homelessness discussions in Cranbrook

There are only 38 shelter beds in Cranbrook, but more than 100 other people unhoused

BC Housing and ANKORS (AIDS Network Outreach and Support Society) East Kootenay have responded to recent discussions within the business community about crime and homelessness in Cranbrook.

On Wednesday, Jan. 19, local business owners and politicians met at Top Crop in Cranbrook to discuss the recent rise in crime across the city, while also calling for more supports for those experiencing homelessness.

As the Townsman reported last week, BC Housing put in place community self-isolation sites and shelter expansions at the beginning of the pandemic. They are open to those experiencing homelessness, people without safe spaces to self-isolate, and youth.

READ MORE: Cranbrook businesses vent frustration with rise in crime

Some sites are in hotels, motels and community centres. There are 38 sites in the Interior, three of which are in Cranbrook with a total of 38 beds.

BC Housing says that Cranbrook is “facing a number of crises”, including the opioid crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of housing.

“All BC Housing projects, including our COVID-19 isolation spaces and shelters, are either directly managed by BC Housing or an experienced, local non-profit society,” BC Housing said in a statement to the Townsman “In Cranbrook, some of these sites are being leased by BC Housing from a private owner. Our real estate team works closely with property owners to develop leases for each property individually, which include descriptions of how BC Housing plans to use the location. At these leased sites, the private owner is not responsible for managing the building or its residents. Decisions around resident tenancy are made by BC Housing and its operators.”

ANKORS is one organization that works with BC Housing to find homes for people.

Polly Sutherland, Team Lead and Peer Development Coordinator with ANKORS, says that the organization works closely with shelters as well as those experiencing homelessness. Whether they find homes directly, or connect people with other social service providers.

Sutherland says that the Cranbrook shelter has been a point of discussion and dialogue, but it is a temporary solution to a multi-faceted problem.

“The shelter has received the brunt of the dialogue and discussion. There are only 40 beds, and we have over 100 other people who are unhoused in Cranbrook,” said Sutherland. “[In terms of the proposed shelter downtown] many of our unhoused are already downtown – all of the social services that are available are located within the downtown area. The shelter is doing all that they can do. That is only one program. If people knew of the challenges [the shelter] faced on a daily basis, they might have more understanding. They have seen a lot of death, from overdose.”

BC Housing says that there are “processes” in place to ensure the safety of the residents at these sites, as well as the surrounding neighbourhood.

“Operating agreements are established between BC Housing and the operator before any location opens, including what supports will be provided on site,” said BC Housing. “Our operators are experienced at providing residents with a range of services, including access to warm meals, safe and secure places to sleep, social workers and physical and metal health supports. Shelters that are open 24-7 are staffed around the clock and have additional security features in place, such as lighting and cameras.”

The organization also says that they support non-profit partners as they work closely with people who are vulnerable, “some of whom are facing complex challenges, such as addiction and mental illness.”

“We also know that shelters are not a long-term solution to homelessness,” said BC Housing. “We will continue to work together with the City of Cranbrook, Interior Health, the Kootenay-Boundary Regional District, and operating societies to create new, permanent, affordable housing options in Cranbrook and the surrounding region.”

Sutherland explained that ANKORS has a community action team that meets every month, which the public is invited to attend.

“This team was formed last spring in response to the overdose crisis. It’s made up of service providers, peers, and we are hoping to get a Council member on board – but it is an open group. We meet on the first Monday of every month at 2p.m. via zoom.”

Sutherland explained that the group works to come up with solutions, while also educating the public on supports like Naloxone, which is known to save lives.

“Recently, with businesses bringing to light these issues, we want them to know that we want these issues addressed as well,” said Sutherland. “We want something to be done to help those who are experiencing homelessness. Education is a big part of it – it can be detrimental to stigmatize people. In the upcoming February meeting, we will definitely be discussing what has been brought forth.”

She says that a lack of detox centres in Cranbrook contributes.

“I’m not denying the fact that business owners are experiencing losses, crime and theft. As a long-term Cranbrook resident, I have seen an increase in crime as well as homelessness. But there is no detox centre here. People can go to the hospital and detox, but are often afraid to do so because of the stigma. Opioid addiction is serious.”

She adds that there has been an increase in transient people in Cranbrook since the COVID-19 pandemic began. At ANKORS specifically, they have seen an increase in people they’ve never seen before who are looking for supports.

“I think that COVID definitely plays a big part in that. The climate here is also better, there are more services here than some other communities, and with that, you’re going to have more people coming here. There is also a lot of housing stress here and in other nearby communities. I’ve seen families who are couch surfing in the winter to wait until spring when it’s warm enough to live in their trailer because rent is just not affordable for them. People on assistance cannot afford to rent a place.

“There is also organized crime here. Some of the theft is directly linked to that.”

ANKORS has many programs and services to help many different people. They have drop-in spaces, overdose prevention sites, needle distribution and clean-up programs, mental health supports, Indigenous programs, peer health navigators, drug checking and more.

Sutherland says that one of their recent initiatives, the Needle Ninja program, is a success and should be utilized.

Peers are people with lived experience with homelessness and/or substance use. ANKORS hires peers to work with the police and public. The peers clean up needles, as well as provide education to those using on how and where to dispose of their needles. So, if someone finds a used needle they can call the Ninjas at 250-426-3383 and someone will come to properly dispose of it.

“This program has been very successful so far,” said Sutherland. “And for the peers, it shifts their role with the community, with the police. There’s less judgement and they feel empowered.”

ANKORS is also working on putting together a peer navigator team.

“These people would work with bylaw, RCMP, and the homeless population. They can clean up areas where maybe people have left things behind, talk to bylaw and RCMP. They can work with people who need help and link them to outreach programs.”

All of this is part of the education aspect that Sutherland works on every day. She says that while she appreciates the conversation that was had last week, she feels that “politicians need to be educated”, especially on stigma, in order to create better solutions.

“We’ve only had one meeting with the local government,” said Sutherland, adding that it was a Committee of the Whole meeting last September, where all of the various social service agencies were invited to attend. “We’ve never been invited to the table before that. The Ktunaxa Nation should be there – why are they not? It’s a pretty typical picture of how Cranbrook operates – people working in silos, as opposed to collaborating and working together.”

She says ANKORS has had quite a few events, such as overdose awareness events, that have had little to no representation from government in attendance.

“There are so many supports that we used to have in Cranbrook, which are no longer available,” said Sutherland. “ANKORS, as well as all of the other agencies, are working hard to get those services back up and running. But it’s a combined effort.”

A combined effort that needs to be extended, she says, to government, businesses and the Ktunaxa Nation.

“In order to have a shelter, you need to be open to substance use. A lot of people who come to these shelters use substances, and most because of trauma, especially childhood trauma. Services need to be looked at with a harm reduction lens,” Sutherland said. “We are open to talking with business owners and politicians – we need to collaborate. We need to look at this issue as a collective. How can we support people in emergency shelters? How can we get people clean water, a place to rest, and supports?”

This story is part of an ongoing series.

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