Last week, Merritt’s four mayoral hopefuls answered their second Herald weekly question, regarding positive relationships with First Nations. Along with eighteen council candidates, they form one of the largest pools of candidates the municipality has ever seen. With voters facing a wide variety of choices, the Herald looks to engage candidates and showcase their responses to the community’s question.
This week, the four candidates for Mayor answered a question regarding support for the city’s homeless. Their responses, in random order:
This week’s question: Do you support the use of N’kwala Park as a designated overnight camping zone for those without shelter? How else can the Mayor and city council address Merritt’s homeless situation?
Tony Luck (incumbent City Councillor, 2018 – current):
“I do not like that there are people in our community that have to set up camp in our parks. I am sympathetic to the challenges our more vulnerable in the community face on a daily basis. I am also sympathetic to the residents of Merritt who want to enjoy their parks. Homelessness is a huge issue in our city and throughout BC. We need to continue to press the provincial government, whose jurisdiction this is, to provide the financial resources to deal with this crisis. As Mayor, I want to work with the citizens and council to advocate strongly for the resources we need to deal with this issue. I think we also need to hold the service organizations accountable and work with them to find long-term solutions to this crisis. To be honest though, I do not think there are any easy answers to this question. The housing crisis is real. Affordability issues are real. And they are bigger than our community alone. We definitely need to see more supply of housing in Merritt to help all levels of residents looking for a home.”
Mike Bhangu (former City Councillor, 2018 – 2021):
“At the moment, I can not. As seen in other cities, temporary has a habit of turning permanent. Once this happens, we will lose our park.
There was a brief period where the park hosted a “tent city” and what I witnessed is that the culture there didn’t respect the area. Moreover, the park eventually attracted delinquent behaviour and characters. This is not to suggest all folks there fell under this statement, and some people were simply down on their luck.
For “tent cities” to be accepted by society, the culture of “tent cities” must improve. For example, the criminal aspects, the hard-drugs, the messiness, etc. must be eradicated. And it’s best to situate such habitats near Rehab Facilities. We must ask—Without rehab, is our compassion a form of enablement?
To tackle the concern of homelessness, I will establish a Hard-Drug Addictions and Mental Health Committee. Moreover, I will push to institute a Bylaw that requests all supportive housing, facilitating hard-drug users, providing a rehab facility along with housing.”
Linda Brown (incumbent Mayor, 2018 – current):
“N’Kwala park was never meant to be used as a permanent home for anyone. Although the homeless problem is not within the jurisdiction of the city, it has become our issue to deal with. Before we amended them, our bylaws did not provide the city with the legal right to move people out of our parks.
We had numerous resident complaints about encroachment on neighbouring properties, about debris left behind, unsightly premises, and inability for others to use the park. But Council was between a rock and a hard place. The option adopted was “the best of the worst” solutions and not meant to be perfect, but one meant to show our humanity to an increasingly vulnerable population.
The decision was to provide a place for the homeless to sleep at night if they needed it. But by 8 am the following morning, they need to pack up and leave the park. Council’s position was that no one could live there permanently. On the other hand, if anyone needed a place to sleep at night, that option was still available to them. Residents can use the park during the day.
The city has a housing strategy to include partnering with BC Housing and several non profits to provide homes for our most vulnerable citizens.”
Mike Goetz (former City Councillor, 2008 – 2018):
“Yes, I do support the overnight camping at N’kwala park as a temporary solution. In order to address homelessness in the City, the first step is to first address the addiction issue that is one of the main drivers of our homelessness (I have sat with many who were in the last camp and all are addicted). We need to work with all the partners we can to create an addiction and long term treatment centre to help our city’s homeless find a better life.”
To view the weekly question asked to council and school trustee candidates, along with all of the Herald’s coverage of this election, view the ‘Civic Elections’ tab on the Herald’s website.
The municipal election will take place on October 15, and will see Merrittonians elect one Mayor and six Councillors to a four year term. For more information on the election, visit www.merritt.ca/election22.