Comments Concerning the Family Centre Encampment
I share the concerns of others about how the recent closure of The Nugget and the Point Park has impacted those in our community with precarious or insecure housing.
That said, it has once again become necessary to dispel misinformation being spread online by Traci Lockman, apparently on behalf of the Family Centre, which operates out of the former train station on Fourth Street West.
The train station has again become a makeshift homelessness encampment, raising concerns from local residents. I have heard from many of these residents and I can appreciate their perspective.
By-Laws are Enforced by Staff, Not Council
It is unclear how Ms. Lockman expects any constructive response or solutions when she chooses to sic a mob on members of Council in a social media “rant” group that she has blocked almost everyone from participating in (if they were so inclined).
As Ms. Lockman knows, there are numerous official forums for these concerns, should she choose to take her grievances outside of her social media soapbox. There is a homelessness committee, the municipality has an Emergency Management Committee, and there is a local shelter. There also remains the opportunity for anyone involved with the Family Centre to make a deputation to Council to communicate their needs directly. They have not done this.
Instead, Ms. Lockman has started a social media campaign to complain about “town officials” informing the Family Centre that this tenting activity was a violation of local by-laws. The by-law in question was a February 22, 2021 amendment to By-Law 03/14. It includes provisions which:
Limit the number of tents at a residential property to just one;
Only allows tents to be erected only between May 1 and September 30; and
Prohibits the occupation of tents in properties in commercial and enterprise zones.
The property used by the Family Centre is zoned as C2 (commercial), so tenting for the purpose of habitation on this property is prohibited.
Ms. Lockman knows very well that Council enacts law, and has no role in enforcement or municipal administration. She also knows that neither me nor Mayor June Caul are the “town officials” responsible for by-law enforcement.
In this case, the “town officials” she is referring to are municipal by-law officers. It is their job to enforce the laws enacted by Council (i.e., by a vote of all 7 members). These employees are doing their jobs, and it is unfair to attack them for applying the law as it is written. No individual member of Council can direct a member of the staff to act – not even the Mayor. Staff take their marching orders from the law and policy adopted by Council and they report to the CAO. That is what they are doing, and in this case, the law is clear and the Family Centre is breaking it.
Unfortunately, this misinformation has developed a local following. In response to Ms. Lockman’s post, Allan Bedard has “publicly” demanded a meeting with Mayor Caul and me (though he has sent no actual invitation).
I am not making time for this meeting. Council has already enacted law governing this issue. It will not be reconsidered in this term of Council and I have no authority to direct staff to ignore the current law. Moreover, neighbouring property owners are entitled to rely on by-laws that are in force and to expect swift enforcement of those rules. Everyone is entitled to equal benefit and protection of our by-laws. The Family Centre is not entitled to exceptional treatment.
Again, contrary to comments like Mr. Bedard's, the enforcement of a by-law by officers is not a decision that individual members of Council made.
The Ongoing Emergency and Potential Relief
Having establish what the law is and who does what at the municipality, now let’s look at what options there are for compliance.
I am aware that concerns have been raised about the suitability of the Point Park (our only municipal campground) for continued tenting activities in light of local flooding and emergency closures. The municipality has an Emergency Management Committee that implemented these measures and is responsible for responding to these needs. It is their directives which have created this issue. The Mayor and Deputy Mayor are the only members of Council on this committee.
The committee's role is expansive. The Mayor declared an emergency to respond to a critical infrastructure failure and subsequent flooding situation on April 23, 2022 and May 11, 2022. This is a power she has, as the head of council, under section 4(1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. This section states that:
The head of council of a municipality may declare that an emergency exists in the municipality or in any part thereof and may take such action and make such orders as he or she considers necessary and are not contrary to law to implement the emergency plan of the municipality and to protect property and the health, safety and welfare of the inhabitants of the emergency area.
As indicated by my emphasis above, having declared the emergency, the Mayor – with the support of the Emergency Management Committee – can take actions and make the orders she sees fit to protect this vulnerable population to the extent they are displaced during the emergency. She does not require Council approval to do this so long as we are in a state of emergency.
Importantly, the lion’s share of any additional costs associated with addressing this housing element of the emergency could find support from the province. During Council’s meeting on June 27, 2022, it adopted a resolution based on a staff report to request that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing activate the Municipal Disaster Recovery Assistance (MDRA) program.
This program helps to defray extraordinary costs a municipality incurs to respond to a natural disaster. Under the MDRA program, costs must reach 3% of the municipality’s taxation (being $317,082). The municipality will be reimbursed 75% of the first 3% of this amount and 95% of any remaining eligible costs. Our costs are already reported to have exceeded this threshold.
Notably, eligible costs under this program include “[o]perating costs that go above regular budgets are that are needed to protect public health, safety or access to essential services.” Presumably, eligible costs could include costs of the municipality to address this situation and to provide a suitable location for this population that is compliant with our by-laws or any emergency orders the Mayor chooses to make.
Using social media to attack members of municipal staff for doing their jobs and individual members of Council who have no power to enact new law on their own will not address these problems.
My suggestion to mature citizens looking for solutions and real actions to address these issues is to direct their concerns to the Mayor and the Emergency Management Committee.
Alternatively, anyone can make a deputation at a Council meeting. However, at this time, the next meeting of Council that is available for deputations is August 8, 2022 (meaning that the request must be submitted by August 4, 2022).
After I published this piece, Ms. Lockman shared the the below comments, apparently changing her story. Now she says that the municipality and the District Social Services Administration Board are working together to facilitate tenting at the train station. Again, if this were true (and the Family Centre has not exceeded what it was authorized to do) why did she post that "town officials" were demanding that the tenters move?
In this comment, she also says that the municipality has okayed the tenters at the Family Centre, but also ordered them to the Point Park. This is contradictory and makes absolutely no sense.
Finally, the by-law I referred to above is very clear that this activity at the train station is prohibited. If any leeway was provided due to the flooding issues at the Point Park, that would be an emergency measure, which is within the power of the Mayor to implement, as I've also described above. If that is the case, the Mayor will need to answer to the residents of Fourth Street West.
As I've suggested, there are alternatives available, but they require that those who have created this situation be willing to engage with the facts. So far, that's not what I am seeing.