Kamloops city council has voted in favour of allowing The Gathering Place, a day space for people experiencing homelessness, to continue operating on West Victoria Street for a second year.
Council approved the staff recommendation in Tuesday’s meeting, allowing the city to enter a short-term facility use permit with the Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society and The Mustard Seed — the same agencies that ran the downtown space last summer.
Carmin Mazzotta, the city’s social, housing and community development manager, said the service providers intend to operate The Gathering Place from noon to 8 p.m. daily, from April 1 to Oct. 31.
He said the agencies will make some changes to the program based on lessons learned from last year’s operations, including offering more activities for guests.
“This will include more active engagement with clients at the day space and in the area around the site, increased advocacy and navigation services — so navigation to housing and support services — and increased Indigenous cultural programming, elder involvement and traditional meals,” Mazzotta said.
According to the city, the site of The Gathering Place, a city owned lot at 48 West Victoria St., will be maintained and cleaned each night.
Mazzotta said the city will work with the agencies to provide misters and tents for cooling and shade in the summer months.
“The service providers also plan to involve clients in operational tasks and will develop ways to recognize or incentivize when clients act in ways that support site management,” Mazzotta said.
Coun. Denis Walsh thanked Mazzotta for the work he had done, but said he had criticisms about the location.
“I just think this compounds some of the concerns that residents [and] businesses have in that area, and I don't understand why we can't find a better location or a couple more locations,” Walsh said.
Coun. Bill Sarai said he was also “torn,” as he believes the agencies in charge of the program do good work, but he held similar concerns about clustering the social services along Victoria Street.
He also cited concerns he had received from businesses about increased litter in the area.
“The times that I've driven by there last year, there was more people still outside that tent area and where the food was was handed out. And what I gained from the businesses there, more food was probably littered in that corridor that was actually consumed on site,” Sarai said.
Mazzotta said agencies will continue to work with RCMP, community services officers and security personnel to discourage loitering and keep the neighbourhood secure.
Coun. Kathy Sinclair said she fully supported the proposal, and asked Mazzotta if there was an indoor space earmarked for the program in case shelter from extreme heat or smoke is necessary.
Mazzotta said they would be having those discussions with BC Housing as city staff get further into heat and extreme weather response planning.
“The heat piece, I think with the misters and the tents, will actually go a long way to addressing it. In terms of the air quality piece, it’s something that we will definitely continue to discuss with BC Housing,” he said.
Mazzotta said last year, the day space saw 2,792 visits and 642 meals served, and the service provider partnership allowed for the site to be run with an Indigenous lens.
“This was significant, because as we know from the Point in Time Count, nearly 50 per cent of homeless respondents identified as Indigenous which is a significant over-representation when compared with the 10 per cent of people in Kamloops as a whole who identified as Indigenous in the last census,” Mazzotta said.
He said 44 per cent of clients who attended The Gathering Place in the summer of 2021 identified as Indigenous.
Council voted 7-2 in favour of continuing the day space program. Sarai and Walsh were opposed.