The Cowichan Leadership Group is asking the province for urgent funding and support for escalating addictions and housing challenges in the Valley.
The CLG, which includes the heads of local governments, school board, MLA Sonia Furstenau, MP Alistair MacGregor, and RCMP and health authorities, has written to 10 separate provincial ministries seeking aid.
The group’s correspondence to the ministries outlines the growing problems in the Cowichan Valley that are arising from substance use and homelessness, and the associated increase in crime and pressure on public safety.
The members of the CLG have requested urgent meetings with each of these ministers to see how their ministry can support the community’s need to fund solutions in treatment, housing, and safety.
Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples said the Valley is a community in crisis.
She said she’s confident that this is obvious and something all can agree on.
“This is our community, we all belong here, and while we appreciate and support the prevention services the province is working on, we are in a community in crisis,” Staples said.
“Prevention is great to build for our future, but we need a response that addresses the reality of our current situation. This will take all of us working together, accepting solutions, taking the time to learn and understand. We cannot afford to let this divide us, our only way through it is working together.”
The CLG formed in June, 2019, in response to increasing need for leaders from different levels of government and organizations in the community to coordinate actions and communications on cross-jurisdictional issues.
In October, the CLG invited Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, to visit the Valley, specifically the area around the Trans Canada Highway encompassing the school board office, Warmland shelter, Corridor Safety Office, and Cowichan Tribes’ Kwun’atsustul Mental Health facility.
During that visit, service providers outlined to Darcy their concerns for the safety and well being of Cowichan residents and those living on the street, and community advocates presented a proposal to the minister to fund temporary treatment facilities and a safe drug supply pilot in Cowichan.
This proposal was denied.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said the Valley’s addictions/mental health/homelessness problems can’t be fixed by simply adding more housing to the mix.
He said he has long argued that while housing is a critical component moving forward, it must be accompanied by the social support services needed to address these problems in a comprehensive way.
“Providing more housing in isolation of those support services won’t fix anything,” Siebring said.
“That’s why we need multiple provincial ministries and agencies to get out of their silos, come to the table, and create a truly holistic solution to these deep-rooted problems.”
Candace Spilsbury, chairwoman of the Cowichan Valley school district, said children, youth, and families in local school communities are feeling tension and struggles around them; tension and struggles caused by the health and social foundation of the community being “unwell”.
“Our students are seeing and hearing about drug injections and deaths by overdose or crime,” she said.
“They find needles on our playgrounds, school grounds and parks, and see the effects of rampant homelessness on our streets and around our schools. They also experience crimes of property theft and vandalism. I know the anger and frustration of our parents, businesses, and citizens who feel unsafe and hopeless. Our community is in crisis and we need (the province’s) support.”