Two senior provincial politicans insisted they are working hard to address public safety issues in Nelson and elsewhere during a meeting with local media Thursday, but offered few specifics.
Deputy premier Mike Farnworth, attorney general Nikki Sharma, and Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson hosted a media gathering to address growing concerns from residents and businesses about public safety, decriminalization of certain drugs, and a safe inhalation site proposed for Nelson.
Farnworth said concerns are spreading across the province with the increased criminal activity threatening the safety of residents and businesses, but concerns vary with each community.
“I have got a perspective on what is going on across the province but situations vary in each region,” he said. “People have raised concerns about having enough police. There has been a real interest around the community safety action plan.”
Farnworth said communities are increasingly interested on how each region can gain access to resources to combat growing safety concerns and how the province will implement the action plan.
“People are interested in the different components of the plan and how they can access the funding and resources for their community,” he says.
Farnworth didn’t talk about particulars of the community plan but when it came to residents’ safety concerns in Nelson he said they are being looked at and the government needs more information before proceeding.
“The issue is Nelson is unique,” he says. “Brittny has kept the attorney general and myself aware of the issues around the [Nelson Friendship Outreach] clubhouse and concerns with Interior Health and the lack of information that seems to be coming forward.
“This is one of the reasons why we’re hear to get a really good understanding to what is happening and determine a method of fixing the issue.”
Anderson added to the discussion about safety and the growing concerns around the clubhouse, saying she has brought constituent concerns forward to the proper authorities and some progress seems to be being made.
“When there was concerns raised I spoke with the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions ,[and] IHA,” she says. “I want IHA to have a clear understanding about the challenges we’re facing because they need to fix this.
“We have to have solutions, we have to keep everyone in our community safe.”
Reporters asked about increasing the number of facilities for mental health and addictions, and specifically about reinstating facilities in Castlegar, Trail and Grand Forks.
In a previous meeting Nelson mayor Janice Morrison said the lack of services extending across the region makes Nelson a hub for people needing treament for mental health and addictions.
“Right now there are no services from the Okanagan to the Alberta border,” Morrison said in an earlier meeting with a concerned community group.
However, attorney general Nikki Sharma would not say if the government would commit to taking the pressure off the city.
“We definitely need services in all communities,” Sharma says. “We have been working with [finance] minister [Katrine] Conroy, and we agreed we need to extend these services throughout the province in order to keep people safe.
“What that means is that the minister of mental health and addictions is working with local governments to determine where those services are meant to be.”
Sharma says while she recognizes the public’s scrutiny about public safety, especially around sensitive issues like decriminalization, people need to be educated around the policies and procedures.
“There are a lot of things around decriminalization which are criminal acts,” Sharma says. “The whole focus around the act is to not penalize users, but to encourage those people to get help.
“The selling of drugs and trafficking of it is still illegal criminal behaviour. It is because we have an opioid crisis in the province that experts have said decriminalization does not solve the problem.”
Despite the efforts of the government, one substance user at Nelson’s clubhouse says it is not enough to help they get the treatment they need.
Basil Smith, a user who frequents the clubhouse, says she has pleaded with the government for help but nothing happens.
“I think they are doing as little as they possibly can to try and make themselves look good,” Smith says. “I don’t think they care about use and would just rather see us all disappear.”
Smith says people who frequent the clubhouse sympathsize with the community when it comes to children’s safety but their options are limited.
“We don’t want the children to see what is happening, but the government has taken away places we can go away from them,” she says. “We don’t have a place to shelter us from the public, so what are we supposed to do?”
She says the decrease in services has led to an increase in stigma around homelessness and users but in fact her community is not as perceived.
“A lot of people think we did drugs and lost everything but it is quite the opposite,” she says. “I ended up homeless because I have horrible parents. I turned to drugs because of this and to self-medicate.”
The gathering with media was scheduled to be held Thursday at MLA Anderson’s office but was moved to the Savoy hotel after a group gathered hoping to get answers from the government to the growing concerns in Nelson.