Langley City task forces will look at homelessness, crime issues

A pair of task forces struck by the City of Langley aim to tackle two serious and ongoing problems — crime and homelessness.

  • Feb. 2, 2015 5:00 a.m.

A pair of task forces being struck by the City of Langley aim to tackle two of the community’s most serious and ongoing problems — crime and homelessness.

Though neither committee has been formally announced, terms of reference for both were discussed at the Jan. 26 meeting of Langley City council, as members debated who will be invited to join the homelessness task force and how it will be funded.

The purpose of the task force on homelessness will be “to examine the conditions and responses to homelessness that exist in the City to date” and “to develop a community wide … response plan,” while the crime prevention task force will try to establish a strategy to prevent or reduce crime in areas of the City with the “most significant level of fear, whether real or perceived.”

Each task force will include members of City council as well as representatives from appropriate community groups and members of the public at large.

While the committees’ mandates are clearly outlined, City Mayor Ted Schaffer acknowledges both problems are complex and won’t be an easy fix.

Schaffer said issues of homelessness and crime in the community have been weighing on his mind since he took over the job from former mayor Peter Fassbender in 2013.

It was a combination of his own observations and input from residents that prompted him to look into forming a task force on each issue.

“We have to try to get a handle on this,” he said.

About a year ago, the mayor began discussing the idea of a task force with the City’s CAO, Francis Cheung.

It was a long conversation, said Schaffer.

“We asked ‘Where do we look? Who do we involve?’ We went back and forth with ideas. ‘Where do you start? What do you do?’”

The homelessness task force is expected to begin working in mid- to late March and will continue to the end of December.

“If it’s working in the right direction, maybe it will carry on. That’s up to council,” said Schaffer.

The committee will be chaired by Councillor Gayle Martin, the City’s representative with the Gateway of Hope homeless shelter. Councillor Rudy Storteboom has been named vice-chair and newly-elected Councillor Val van den Broek will serve as the public safety committee liaison.

Storteboom and van den Broek will each hold their same positions on the Crime Prevention Task Force, which will be chaired by the mayor.

Discussion over whether to invite the Township to the table dominated much of the conversation about the homelessness task force during the meeting.

Martin suggested the Township should have a representative on the committee “from the ground up.

“They should be there from the beginning, not just called occasionally,” she said.

Councillor Dave Hall disagreed, saying City’s staff’s advice was not to include the Township as voting members of the task force.

“Advice given by staff was to first go with the terms of reference as they are here, and perhaps later bring in Township personnel in a non-voting role,” he said.

Homelessness knows no boundaries, replied Martin, adding that it simply isn’t as visible in the Township as in the City.

“That’s where all the camps are, because (the Township) has the land,” she said.

“I don’t think one member of the committee being from the Township will make or break (it),” Martin said, adding it was on the advice of the RCMP that she suggested including a committee member from the Township.

Martin added that she was unconcerned whether or not that representative had a vote.

The motion to reserve a seat for a member of Langley Township council passed.

A decision about whether to allocate $35,000 from casino proceeds to hire a consultant, or team of consultants, to guide the homelessness task force will be made when council votes on the City’s 2015 financial plan in early March.

Hall asked why money is being allocated to the homelessness task force, while no budget was set for the crime prevention committee.

Cheung replied that City staff don’t have the knowledge or skill set to deal with social issues such as homelessness.

“We need an individual who knows about that to assist and develop strategies,” he said.

The crime prevention task force, by comparison, will be more of a “grass roots” initiative and its members will have the experience and skills to develop strategies, said Cheung.

Noting that her earlier suggestion that the homelessness task force include members from both Surrey and Abbotsford had been shot down, van den Broek said she was opposed to spending $35,000 on a consultant. “With this many people on the committee, we should be able to figure it out.