Kamloops mayor asked to stop visiting B.C. Housing shelters unannounced

Kamloops, B.C. mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson says he is trying to help people find a warm place to sleep. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC - image credit)
Kamloops, B.C. mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson says he is trying to help people find a warm place to sleep. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC - image credit)

Less than a month after he was elected, the new mayor of Kamloops has raised the ire of shelter operators upset about him suddenly showing up with someone needing a bed, sometimes in the middle of the night.

B.C. Housing, which is the organization overseeing most shelter spaces across the province, has issued a statement indicating Reid Hamer-Jackson's unannounced visits are "disruptive" to staff trying to help people in need.

"Front-line shelter staff are focused on providing support to the vulnerable people who are staying there," the statement reads.

"Operators have established processes to support visits to these sites but are unable to accommodate unannounced visits given how disruptive they are to the privacy of shelter guests and to front-line staff who are stretched and working in very challenging circumstances."

Hamer-Jackson is now being asked to pre-arrange future visits.

"We welcome those wanting to visit a shelter to contact the operator or B.C. Housing to arrange an appropriate time to visit."

Mayor says he is trying to help

Hamer-Jackson, who was elected in October, says his visits are a result of his trying to help get people out of the cold.

He confirmed he visited Moira House, a shelter on the city's North Shore operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association, early Sunday morning with someone needing space at a place that is wheelchair accessible.

"We went over there and just asked if they had any beds," he said. "Why would I stop trying to help people?"

According to B.C. Housing, Moira House is a year-round transitional housing space that does not take drop-ins.

Hamer-Jackson, who owns a car dealership in downtown Kamloops, says he's constantly dealing with alarms going off overnight when people needing shelter break into vehicles on his lot in an attempt to keep warm.

During the recent election campaign, he questioned the effectiveness of the shelter system in Kamloops and has asked for B.C. Housing to fund a review of local shelters to ensure accountability.

Hamer-Jackson says he's dropped into many shelters but only encountered resistance at facilities managed by the Kamloops chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, which recently backed out of plans to run the city's two cold weather shelters.

He says he is surprised that his visits are being seen as negative.

"If trying to get people off the streets from freezing to death is something wrong, I guess I should move to a different country," he said.