Houston Health, Safety, Community Services and Education Committee opened its doors to the public on March 17 to further develop a health charter.
The charter will help the District and service groups focus their efforts in working towards a common goal in Houston.
“From the District’s point of view, once council adopts the health and wellness charter …, with everything we do, we can put a lens on health and wellness, making it a top priority for the District,” said Coun. Jonathan Van Barneveld.
The evening workshop saw eight participants highlighting three areas to work on: developing a sense of belonging, food and education.
Sense of belonging
Participants agreed that developing a sense of belonging in Houston can help enhance the community’s vitality as people contribute to the community.
The central problem here revolves around employment conditions.
“I think professionals are more likely to be volunteers in the community, and what happens with someone working in the mill more often than not is with the shift work that makes it really hard to get involved with a group,” said Mayor Shane Brienen.
Northwest Community College employee Sandy Lavalle pointed to Equity Silver Mine as an example, where successive managers became further detached from Houston. She worries that the same problem is happening to the NWCC with its travelling employees.
“And now we have people that work two weeks in and two weeks out at mines … so it changes the fabric of the community,” she added.
Workshop facilitator Jim Sands agreed.
“I did something in Fort Fraser about two years ago … mines have gone on a four-and-four shift, and that meant nobody could coach hockey,” he said.
However, Mayor Shane Brienen said a heartening development is that Houston has become more receptive to newcomers.
“What I found before, is when new people moved into town, a lot of times people didn’t take the time to introduce themselves or even want more people in their social circle,” he said. “That seemed to be changing.”
Brienen also pointed to another challenge of getting people to enjoy the outdoors.
“Lots of times they don’t find someone that they’re going to fish with, to hunt with or hike with,” said Brienen, adding that the Houston Hikers Society’s website has helped in this aspect.
Houston’s only grocery store became the prime target of discussion, but the issue around having quality food in Houston is a chicken-and-egg problem, participants heard.
“Lots of people typically have long-term, well-paying jobs, that they have the economic ability to leave town as a leisure activity to go shopping,” said Van Barneveld.
As a result, the Super-Valu does not get the full economic support of the community. Further, Erhardt noted that Super-Valu has their hands tied because they have to follow purchasing orders from their headquarters.
Van Barneveld also highlighted the problem of junk food, noting that millworkers often forgo healthier options in favour of “quick eats”. He sees this as a problem of education and lifestyle options.
Northern Health representative Kira Horning highlighted another aspect to this issue, saying that a study by Northern Health showed that eating junk food and healthier grocery store food are comparable in costs.
“And that’s a challenge, when you have something quick and unhealthy and costs the same as something that’s healthy and takes time of your day,” she said.
The other issue revolves around food security. Lavalle highlighted that Houston has a segment that has problems accessing food.
While the community garden, Houston Friendship Centre Society and Northwest Community College do help, Mayor Brienen thought the community could explore having community gardens in each subdivision and employing geothermal heating into subterranean greenhouses.
“What I’m seeing in the North here is some people are producing food for 10 months of the year now, and those are things that council would be interested to hear,” he said.
Education became a hot topic after the shake up at the NWCC Houston campus.
To Lavalle, education leads to jobs, but Lavalle highlighted that the campus has nobody doing workforce training such as first aid and FoodSafe certifications.
“The community of Houston deserves much better,” she said. “We have part of the population of Houston where people are unemployed, and there’s limited literacy and skill level and if imaginary LNG jobs show up, people need to be trained.”
Participants proposed a shift from relying on institution-centred learning to community-level education.
“There’s quite a role, I think, for people to be more education in what Houston already has to offer,” said Coun. Van Barneveld.
Different service groups could share knowledge, added Lavalle.
“We had those in the past and they were very successful, and they don’t cost money,” she said.