North Cowichan Coun. Tek Manhas voted against an application for grant funding to help reduce poverty in the Cowichan Valley at the council meeting on Feb. 16.
At the meeting, Manhas raised issues regarding a request from the Cowichan Housing Association for the municipality to support an application for funding for the region from the Union of B.C. Municipalities to help reduce poverty.
The application includes the CHA, Our Cowichan, Cowichan Tribes, the City of Duncan, North Cowichan [which voted for it at the meeting, with Manhas opposed] and other community partners with the goal of establishing and implementing a community-driven regional poverty reduction plan.
While the application doesn’t specifically say how much the grant would be, funding requests for regional projects under the program can’t exceed $150,000.
In a letter to council, CHA executive director Shelley Cook said the intent of the project is to pick up where the Community COVID-19 Task Force left off by building on the lessons learned — from a policy, practice, and educational perspective — through the pandemic response, and broadening and deepening the work of the task force.
She said that one of the lessons learned from the Valley’s response to the pandemic is the need to form a new organizational structure that is co-led by Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners, which will be undertaken as part of the planning work.
“Over and above establishing a new organizational structure, the main objective achieved through this planning work will be a poverty-reduction ‘Plan of Action’ targeting the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized in our community,” Shelley said.
“The Plan of Action would be regional in scope, community-driven, and integrate lessons learned from COVID-19 emergency planning.”
Cook said the funding opportunity is uniquely structured to support both the planning [through Stream 1 funding] and implementation [through Stream 2] to meet the needs of the Cowichan region.
But Manhas said the Cowichan community has gotten many grants over the years to help deal with these issues, and they don’t seem to help.
“Things are not just getting better and, in my opinion, they are getting worse,” he said.
“If we do get this grant money, I’m not sure how things will get any better, and I’m also hearing this from people on the street and from other organizations. Now we’re looking at another organizational structure, but we have all these organizations already. I’m not sure I can support this.”
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie said saying things are getting worse, even though many in the community are trying to fix the problems, is no reason not try to attain more funds to try and help deal with them.
She said this particular grant is needed.
“Prior to COVID-19, we had a housing coalition here that met quite regularly, but it was disbanded because of COVID-19 and having to deal with people living on the streets and having to figure all that out,” said Sawrie, who is also a project director and facilitator at Social Planning Cowichan.
“A lot of work has gone into it and people are seeing some improvements, especially people who are now housed who weren’t before. That doesn’t mean new people aren’t arriving and new people aren’t becoming homeless because of the current situation with the pandemic, poverty, the housing crisis and for other reasons. So for me, this work is really important because the housing and homeless coalition needs to get back in order.”
Sawrie said that, currently, the CHA is not capable of taking on these challenges by itself.
“Looking at the last two years with the pandemic and the work that has been done and how that filters into what we need to do as a community, we need to utilize a group that is both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and that’s really important as part of the next steps to be taken,” she said.
“These funds will help us make a plan and Stream 2 funding will help us put the plan in action.”