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Chilliwack council approves street-cleaning funds despite mess

Councillors say while they fully support program goals, they had concerns about mess outside mission
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Funding for the Downtown Cleanup Peer Employment program approved by council for 2024. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

A downtown street-cleaning program that fosters job skills for residents of a homeless shelter was given the nod for another year by city council.

City council approved the $56,000 funding request at Tuesday’s meeting to continue the Downtown Cleanup Peer Employment program from Ruth and Naomi’s Mission, before funding ran out at the end of April.

The street team, wearing matching black jackets, picks up litter and and empties cigarette-butt containers.

Residents of the community outreach shelter run by Ruth & Naomi’s can earn $50 per day.

Some councillors said while they supported the program goals, they had concerns about the big “mess” left outside Ruth and Naomi’s Mission.

More city oversight might be warranted, they suggested.

In the end, the city funding was approved, which allows the program to carry on until the end of 2024, while a more permanent funding source is sought.

But during the discussion Coun. Bud Mercer asked if there was a problem with “capacity” in staffing the program, given the increased “volume of mess and garbage” around the mission itself.

“Something is wrong. Currently it’s not working and i think we should ask why, but that doesn’t change my support for this,” Mercer underlined. He said later he was trying to “be delicate” given the heartbreak of homelessness and addiction that is apparent around Ruth and Naomi’s.

“But this is kind of like giving money to a house painter to paint your house when his own house hasn’t been painted,” Mercer said.

Here the city funds are aimed at cleaning up disasters in the area, but mission officials are not keeping their “own house” clean.

“Their place is a mess!” Mercer said with exasperation.

Mayor Ken Popove pointed out the goal was having the area cleaned up each morning by 10 a.m. but in terms of what was wrong, “it could be capacity, not exactly sure,” Popove said.

“Some days are worse than others, there’s no question.”

Coun. Jason Lum said he wouldn’t want to see the program put at risk, but more oversight might be required and asked if keeping the area clean was part of the mission’s Good Neighbour Agreement with the city.

Coun. Chris Kloot asked if there was a way to monitor if the program was “meeting expectations” and asked why the funding applicants didn’t start the cleanup “at their front door.”

Coun. Jeff Shields asked about long-term funding sources, and if any headway had been made in this regard.

Coun. Nicole Read gently but firmly reminded council it was an “employment” program to develop skills, as much street-cleaning.

They’re giving jobs to people who are not able to acquire one by traditional means.

So it’s not only contributing $56,000 to get the downtown cleaned up but also an opportunity for participants to gain valuable skills.

“It’s a start,” Read pointed out, adding there’s a lot of social impact happening.

“This should be a WorkBC initiative 100 per cent,” she said in terms of long-term funding.

Mayor Popove, and Coun. Lum immediately thanked Coun. Read for the reminder about the skill-building aspects.

“It’s pretty much the only reason I would support this,” Lum added.

The city’s chief administrative officer told council staff had heard council concern around the need to audit the program, and that staff would report back at a later date.

City of Chilliwack and the Downtown BIA have been strong supporters of the street cleaning and employment program.

“We so appreciate the partnerships we have,” said Scott Gaglardi, executive director of Ruth & Naomi’s, in an interview with the Chilliwack Progress before council approved the funding.

Feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive, Gaglardi said, providing an example:

“This program saved my life,” was one of the comments.

“In terms of purpose it maybe not lifesaving but for some it has implications on their substance use. They have to show up ready to work, and not under the influence.”

It’s also a way for shelter residents to give back.

“Someone said it helps them feel seen,” he added.

They show up ready to work, are given instruction, and they need to work as a team.

It can also have a humanizing effect on the public and the actual impact of the program might have an effect that’s more of a “slow burn,” he said.

It’s a chance to have someone on the street look the team member in the eye, and say ‘thanks’ or ‘good job.’

“It’s that community affirmation and encouragement that may result. Those are the loftier goals of the program,” Gaglardi said.



Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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