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COLUMN: Challenges of homelessness in Cranbrook

Marcel Germer, the city’s social development coordinator, describes her role in the community
Marcel Germer (left), Social Development Coordinator for the City of Cranbrook, and the City of Cranbrook Bylaw Officer, visit a tent encampment. (Photo by Hunter Corrigal)

Cranbrook, like most other cities in BC, is experiencing unprecedented challenges related to the impacts of the ongoing housing, opioid, and mental health crises.

Individuals and families face issues such as increased cost of living, rising interest rates, housing attainability and affordability, lack of access to health care such as a family doctor, and food instability.

Businesses are facing staffing shortages, rising operating costs, and many are being directly impacted by the changing social landscape and increasing crime.

Earlier this spring, Cranbrook announced my hiring as the Social Development Coordinator. The creation of this position was in response to advocacy across sectors, a recognition of the changes in the social fabric of the community, and a genuine desire by the City and the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) to align with existing non-profit organizations, community advocates, faith-based organizations, Indigenous organizations, and the Provincial and Federal Government in identifying and addressing the dynamic issues and challenges being experienced by Cranbrook’s citizens.

So, it is natural to ask what is the Social Development Coordinator’s role in facing these challenges?

A crucial part of this role is gathering information that allows me to understand the concerns within the community, evaluate that information, and then, with input across all sectors of the community, share these details, along with recommendations back to the City to consider and act on or advocate for higher levels of government to act on.

Each week in this role has been different. Most weeks, I spend two or three mornings with Bylaw Services visiting encampments scattered around the city and gaining perspective from those living with or with lived experience.

The feedback from those living amid social crises is invaluable in finding solutions. Their stories are diverse and varied, but their resilience is astounding. To maintain a sense of humour even if your present looks bleak, is courage.

Being in the encampments gives me the opportunity to also check on their health and well-being, remind them about resources available, encourage them to attend their physical and mental health appointments, enquire about their readiness for housing, and discuss their responsibilities as citizens of this great community.

On-site or back at the office, I also connect with community resources to see if individuals are on someone’s radar and while taking part in collaboration meetings that ensure the right people have the information needed to connect and support those in need.

I have met with the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce, Cranbrook RCMP, Fire & Emergency Services, and Adult Probation. I have toured the Food Bank, Fire Hall, Travel Lodge Shelter, Street Angels, Community Connections, and ANKORS.

I have participated in meetings and planning sessions, am part of a team formulating the Extreme Weather Preparedness Plan, have attended City Council meetings, enjoyed some community events, and met with multiple individuals with many years of experience who have offered guidance and expertise.

I have researched what other cities are doing to respond to similar challenges, have explored models and approaches to addressing and managing homeless, opioid, and mental health crises, reached out to organizations outside Cranbrook doing good prevention and crisis response work, and have met with multiple organizations who have programs that could benefit Cranbrook.

I have collaborated with other agencies on upcoming events and have put into motion projects to support collaborative practice, address issues such as access to showers and sanitation for the unhoused and develop ongoing support for those in recovery or re-entering society.

It has been a busy couple of months, and I have appreciated every moment, but the work has only begun.

To adequately address the challenges Cranbrook is experiencing will require Cranbrook to come together to identify and create solutions.

Marcel Germer is the Social Development Coordinator for the City of Cranbrook

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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