Regional district split about committee to distribute VIHA funds

A committee will consider how to disburse the majority of a one-time $300,000 grant from the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

A split vote Tuesday by the regional district board approved the formation of a select committee that will consider how to disburse the majority of a one-time $300,000 grant from the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

The purpose of the grant is to address homeless issues and to support healthy communities.

The committee — comprised of Comox director Tom Grant, Courtenay director Starr Winchester and Area C representative/board chair Edwin Grieve — will focus on homelessness and the Housing First concept.

Courtenay directors Manno Theos and Jon Ambler also favoured the committee. Directors Gwyn Sproule (Cumberland), Patti Fletcher (Comox), Bruce Jolliffe (Area A) and Jim Koehler (Area B alternate) were opposed.

Fletcher suggests the board might have offended members of the Comox Valley Housing Task Force — to whom the board had previously given $75,000 — and the Village of Cumberland by excluding both from the select committee.

Sproule agrees the task force would have valuable input as to how the money could be used.

Grant noted only two members of the 12-person task force would be able to vote on fund disbursement due to conflict of interest.

Winchester said the motion is not meant to offend task force members but to help homeless individuals.

“Let’s hopefully make a difference,” she said, noting Grant is a natural selection to the committee because he has worked directly with the homeless.

Ambler concurs that action is needed.

“In our heart of hearts we want to do what’s best with this issue,” Grieve added.

Of the $300,000, the board approved a $20,000 allocation to the Wachiay Friendship Centre to develop a youth suicide prevention program in partnership with the school district. In addition, the Dawn to Dawn: Action on Homelessness Society will receive $6,000 to develop year-round recreation programs.

The select committee will meet with district staff and bring back recommendations concerning the rest of the funds at the next committee of the whole session.

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Housing Task Force chair Ronna-Rae Leonard takes exception to the formation of “another select committee to address homelessness,” as stated in a press release.

The task force consists of elected officials from Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland and the CVRD, along with eight members of the public. After the fall municipal elections, Leonard said the team has dedicated time and expertise to “meet the full continuum” of housing needs in the Valley.

The task force provides advice and information to local governments, and makes recommendations on matters referred by local governments. In June, the group agreed focus is needed on achieving tangible results from the $300,000 VIHA grant. Members directed Leonard to communicate with district CAO Debra Oakman regarding fund distribution.

“Vacations delayed that discussion, and now we are seeing an act to turn a blind eye to the work of the task force,” Leonard states. “The excuses for creating a new political committee and not referring the funding matter to the task force just don’t add up.”

She said the task force has demonstrated its capacity to distribute public funds, citing the $75,000 granting program from a previous VIHA grant.

Tom Grant, she added, was mistaken when he said only two members would be entitled to vote after the other task force members (including Grant) excused themselves for conflict of interest. Leonard said seven of the 12 members were eligible to vote on the $75,000.

Grant had been a Dawn to Dawn board member but has resigned from the position.