Local governments are working on fixes for Lewis Street crisis
Re: “Problems on Lewis Street are extreme”, (Citizen online Nov. 4)
Mr. Woodruff’s letter clearly expresses the frustrations that I hear on almost a daily basis with respect to the public disorder issues in the Lewis Street corridor and elsewhere. As it happens, he and I ran into one another recently in a coffee shop, and discovered that in many ways, we share similar concerns. The fact is that we are dealing with several concurrent crises involving housing, homelessness, and struggles with opioid addictions and mental health. These are not easy issues to tackle by any means, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
I also fully understand that when people see disorder on their streets, their first stop to register their concern is their local government. But the fact is that as local government, we are limited in the scope of what we can do, both legislatively and financially. Which is why, in cooperation with the City of Duncan, Cowichan Tribes, and others, we have arranged for (and held) multiple meetings with the provincial ministers of Health, Mental Health and Addictions, and Housing. The reason for these meetings is that, simply put, the solution to these problems is not just a matter of “building another shelter.” That would be a Band-Aid at best.
What we have been advocating for in these meetings is a holistic approach that not only provides shelter, but also includes the provision of other services; addictions counselling, mental health treatment, life skills coaching, and other necessary services. But the way these things are structured, this will require financial contributions from all of the provincial ministries identified above. The reality is that in government, these ministries often operate in silos that need to be broken down.
I perceive that we have been making good progress. Response from the individual ministers has been positive; they’ve been impressed with the unity our community is demonstrating on this file, and they’ve all committed to look at the specifics of our situation in a holistic way. The biggest frustration in all of this has been how long it has taken, but we need to remind ourselves that these ministers are dealing with literally dozens of other communities with similar problems. Governments, by their very nature, don’t move as quickly as we would like.
Which is why we have taken some interim steps to address the disorder at the local level. For example, in collaboration with the City of Duncan, we have signed onto the Safer Communities Agreement and are on the cusp of opening a Corridor Safety Office. The specific purpose of this is to address crime and disorder along the Trans-Canada Highway corridor between Beverly Street and Boys Road. The plan for this office was developed in consultation with Cowichan Tribes, local business owners, SD 79, health and service providers, the RCMP, and others.
I acknowledge — and Mr. Woodruff’s letter makes clear — that this office is only part of the solution. The longer-term fix involves the broader discussions we’ve been having with the province, as described above. And I’m quite optimistic that we will be in a position to make some very positive announcements as a result of these discussions sometime early in the new year.
Al Siebring, mayor
Municipality of North Cowichan