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Prince George applying for $2.5M to support homeless population during COVID-19

City eligible for grant funds to help unsheltered population during COVID-19
Funding would address a multitude of services for Prince George's unsheltered population. | Jess Fedigan, PrinceGeorgeMatters

The City of Prince George will be applying for a $2.5-million grant to support the unsheltered homeless population and address related community impacts.

The funding comes from the federal and provincial government’s $540-million Safe Restart Agreement to manage the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, $100 million of that is being delivered through what is called the Strengthening Communities’ Services Program, which aims to support unsheltered homeless populations.

The maximum amount available to Prince George, because of its population, is $2.5 million and the funding can contribute up to 100 per cent of the cost of eligible activities.

Chris Bone, the city’s Senior Manager of Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships, presented the grant opportunity for council’s approval during last night’s (April 12) meeting.

She says the city’s application focuses on costs associated with the establishment and operation of the Community Safety Hub, and incremental improvements to the current package of six interrelated downtown and area service enhancements.

The grant funding is intended as a bridge for the period from the onset of COVID-19 to the post-pandemic recovery period. 

Intended outcomes, however, are set to focus heavily on the health and safety of the unsheltered homeless population.

Community Safety Hub

Bone says the funding would be used for renovations that have taken place at the new Community Safety Hub, which is located at the corner of George Street and Second Avenue in the city’s District Energy Building. 

A multitude of social services and organizations who work with the unsheltered population work out of that new downtown hub space.

The funding would also provide for an on-site coordinator and a pilot project to enable the city to hire two outreach workers.

“It is proposed that these workers will work alongside our bylaws officers and focus on connecting unsheltered homeless workers to the services and supports,” explained Bone.  

“These coordinators will also have the responsibility of fostering dialogue between the homeless population bylaw and protective services and the downtown business community.”

Safety and Security

Prince George is also seeking funding for enhanced RCMP patrols in the downtown core.

“In addition to the two-member patrol for six hours per day approved by council during the 2021 budget process we are asking for an additional two-member patrol for another six hours which will double the current allotment,” Bone said.

“This will allow the RCMP to have a presence in the evenings and early morning hours on a regular basis.”

Other security-related requests include fencing for a vacant lot adjacent to the Community Safety Hub and security at civic facilities and parkades.

Clean and Waste Management

The grant application includes a request for additional days and hours for the city’s Downtown Clean Team and daily bio-hazard inspection and clean-up crews as well as additional service days for the DART Alley clean-up team.

Bone says the city is also applying for a centralized refuse bin or a mini-transfer station at the 18th Avenue yard.

“This will allow our downtown bylaw officers to quickly access a transfer station allowing them to be out of the downtown core of a limited number period of time,” she noted.

The city’s funding request also includes a Peer Supported Employment Program, which would provide employment opportunities for the unsheltered population.

“Thus will address key grant criteria by the engagement of the unsheltered homeless population,” says Bone.  

The program would be operated by contacted nonprofit that would work in collaboration with Northern Health’s peer management support worker.

Support for Unsheltered Homeless

The city currently has two homeless storage service sites in the downtown core.

This grant application requests the relocation and expansion of the Prince George Native Friendship Centre’s site to the currently Prince George-owned building at 138 George St.

They are proposing with renovations to this site they will be able to offer a full-service one-stop shelter as renovations will allow bathrooms, showers, additional storage space. Also to complement the site the application is are seeking funding for an additional mental health worker.

The city is also seeking funding to develop a comprehensive engagement strategy with the unsheltered population.

“We don’t do a good job of talking with the unsheltered homeless population about their needs and their interests and involvement,” says Bone.

“We get most of our information through the point-in-time count and the last point-in-time count was done in 2018 and we had pretty minimal feedback about the kinds of services and we know there have been significant changes in the environment since the opioid crisis.”

Next steps

Council unanimously passed the recommendation to support the application request for the $2.5 million in funding.

“It is an exciting opportunity with this application,” said Mayor Lyn Hall at the start of the discussion.

The application was also informed by feedback received from city directors, the RCMP, Northern Health, BC Housing, Downtown Prince George, and the Prince George Native Friendship Centre.

“This really is an incredible opportunity and it is really unprecedented. I have never seen this kind of opportunity in the past where a commitment of hopefully, $2.5 million, for contribution to these issues we are currently seeing,” said Coun. Murry Krause.

“Innovation is the answer. We have got to look at it in a new way and obviously what is being proposed is going to do just that.”

Prince George will learn of the outcome of the application within 90-days and if successful, it would be required to spend the allotment within a one-year period.