Politicians, Indigenous leaders team up as homelessness issue worsens in Happy Valley-Goose Bay

·3 min read
This tarp is set up just a short walk from one of the arms of the main trail system in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in June 2021.  (Regan Burden/CBC - image credit)
This tarp is set up just a short walk from one of the arms of the main trail system in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in June 2021. (Regan Burden/CBC - image credit)

As temperatures climb in Happy Valley-Goose Bay so do the number of transient homeless people in the central Labrador town, bringing renewed concerns for the vulnerable population and the community.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government announced late Monday that it has created what it's calling the Acute Response Team, to address urgent needs in the town.

The team, which brings together government ministers, Indigenous leaders, and local politicians, is set to convene immediately.

"I guess there's a balance between what we're hearing between public safety in the community, public safety issues, and there's a need for the vulnerable population," said Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation Lisa Dempster, who is co-chair of the team.

"There is an increase in the number of transient and transiently homeless people in that community. There's probably an increase in things like mischief and loitering, alcoholism."

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

Dempster said the new response team will work in conjunction with the Action Team, a group of community leaders, Indigenous governments, police and health and governmental departments who focused their attention on vulnerable populations and homelessness in 2021.

That group, Dempster said, is in the planning stages of building a shelter that would mirror that of the Gathering Place in St. John's, which provides wraparound services, food and shelter. She said the province will call on the federal government to provide some funding for that project. However, no date has been set for construction.

Changes needed now

Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper, who sits as an independent member of the legislature, said the announcement follows several meetings between Premier Andrew Furey and Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor George Andrews.

"The challenge now is to invoke some immediate actions that can help with everyone involved," Trimper said.

"What the council, the Mayor of [Happy Valley-Goose Bay] and myself and others here are feeling there is a need for some immediate steps that can be done in the most respectful and supportive way that can be done to provide us with, may I say, a bridge through until the more permanent solution is in place."

There are immediate concerns over the health of people who frequent wooded areas and the streets in town — and for good reason.

Just this winter, two individuals who were using government-funded shelters died outside in the cold. Their deaths and issues surrounding homelessness were probed in a CBC Investigates series in February.

Trimper also pointed to recent reports of individuals with alcohol addictions drinking hand sanitizer — often times with dangerous consequences.

"We've just gone through a couple of days where it was just a few degrees above zero with miserable people in the woods living very rough, very dangerously," Trimper said.

The team is expected to touch on housing, mental health and other social issues.

Dempster said it was important for all Indigenous groups to be on board with the response team.

"They were unanimous, without hesitation, we want to come, we want to sit down. We want to work with you to see collectively what solutions we can come up with," Dempster said.

Members of the Acute Response Team are:

  • Lisa Dempster, Minister Responsible for Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation and Minister Responsible for Labrador Affairs, co-chair.

  • John Hogan, Minister of Justice and Public Safety, co-chair.

  • John Haggie, Minister of Health and Community Services.

  • John Abbott, Minister Responsible for the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

  • Perry Trimper, Member of the House of Assembly for Lake Melville.

  • Representative designated by Nunatsiavut Government.

  • Etienne Rich, Grand Chief of Innu Nation.

  • Mary Ann Nui, Deputy Grand Chief of the Innu Nation.

  • Eugene Hart, Chief of the Sheshatshui Innu First Nation.

  • Todd Russell, President of NunatuKavut Community Council.

  • George Andrews, Mayor of the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

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