The Peninsula Homeless to Housing task force was attended by 17 people Friday morning.

White Rock bylaw enforcement rebuffs homeless task force

Efforts by the Peninsula Homeless to Housing task force to have bylaw officials attend one of its monthly meetings has so far been in vain.

Efforts by the Peninsula Homeless to Housing (PH2H) task force to have its cities’ bylaw officials attend one of its monthly planning sessions has so far been in vain.

The City of White Rock’s bylaw enforcement department turned down the invitation, and City of Surrey officials say they have yet to receive the request.

The invitation – emailed by task force chairman Neil Fernyhough on request from PH2H members – was spurred by two RCMP officers who attended a PH2H meeting in November. The officers advised that bylaw officers would be a valuable asset to the group.

The City of White Rock’s invitation went to the manager of building and bylaw enforcement.

However, through the city’s communications department, bylaw manager James Nyhus told Peace Arch News Monday that he “is too busy to attend this meeting but he did make it clear to them that we’re happy to provide information that they’re looking for… He hopes that they will reach out to him again the same time next year for his participation.”

Communications co-ordinator Ashley Gregerson noted PH2H requests for information should go through Carl Isaak, the City of White Rock’s planning manager, who has been regularly attending monthly meetings.

The basis of the RCMP’s suggestion, Fernyhough says, was that bylaw enforcement officers have the most frequent interactions with homeless people. Isaak’s duties do not involve patrolling the streets.

Asked if any bylaw enforcement officer could attend, Gregerson said: “All of our bylaw is extremely busy at the moment.”

Fernyhough said information from bylaw enforcement officers would be beneficial in planning the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count on March 8, which is co-ordinated by BC Non-Profit Housing Association. A rural component was added to this year’s count.

“Bylaw enforcement officers are the ones who have the most frequent day-to-day contact with people who are homeless. Part of the reason for having them here would be to provide some advice, or suggestions around where we might be able to find (homeless people) for the count and also give us some ideas, ballpark numbers as well of individuals they’re contacting,” Fernyhough said.

Fernyhough said a representative from bylaw enforcement wouldn’t be expected to stay for the entire meeting.

Fernyhough told PH2H members he was “a little bit shocked” by the cities’ reactions to his request.

“I wrote (Nyhus) back and said is this because the City of White Rock is not interested in participating in this project? And, he said – ‘I just don’t have the time to come to one of your meetings,’” Fernyhough said.

Fernyhough said he called the City of Surrey’s main phone-line and asked to get in touch with the appropriate department. After being transferred, he talked to an operator and provided the reason for his call.

However, Jas Rehal, City of Surrey manager of bylaw enforcement, told PAN Monday that he doesn’t recall the invitation, and neither does the staff of his department.

“We are always available to discuss issues,” Rehal said by email.

PH2H members discussed a number of ways the task force could get both cities’ attention. The group discussed the possibility of an informal phone call, seeking advice from city staff, or a letter to council members.

“Letters are easy to ignore,” Jean Macdonald, the Crescent United Church liaison, told other members. “It doesn’t matter who’s who in the zoo. What we want is, we need the help of these people so we want to figure out the most effective way to do it. Writing a letter, frankly… ain’t going to cut it.”

Isaak told the group he wouldn’t take a position on the matter, but added “I can confirm that we are very busy as staff members. If there’s a specific request, it’s a hard thing to make timing for. I’m here to provide input from the city side of things.”

A few PH2H members agreed Friday that it’s not imperative that a bylaw enforcement actually attend the meeting, but general intelligence from the departments would be beneficial to the task force.

PH2H meets the first Friday of every month from 10-11:30 a.m. at White Rock Baptist Church.

The task force was formed in 2005 out of concern with the increasing number of homeless people on the Peninsula. Faith groups, social service organizations and private citizens regularly attend the sessions.

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