Bad housing, needles, health care worry council

Provincial government asked for assistance

Earlier this year the townhouses located in Houston did receive some updates.

Call it the District of Houston’s wish list.

Each year council members travel south to the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention armed with a thick file of topics of local importance to present to provincial cabinet ministers.

While council may not be able to meet with every cabinet minister it wants to, the information it has is forwarded on for consideration.

Here’s a rundown of some of this year’s topics.

Bad housing clean up needed

The District says it needs money and beefed up provincial regulations to deal with substandard housing.

“There are significant health, safety and maintenance issues in several multi-family housing units in Houston,” council said in a memo to municipal affairs and housing minister Selena Robinson. “There are reports of insect and rodent infestations, deteriorating construction and foundations, unhygenic, and for most families, unlivable.”

Although the District adopted a Standards of Maintenance Bylaw in 2014, the subsequent closure of Houston Forest Products and loss of its tax base cut the District’s budget.

“As a result, the District is financially unable to adequately enforce the bylaw or impose remedial action requirements if an owner refuses to do the work themselves,” the district noted.

It said deficient housing lowers the value of nearby homes and encourages crime and nuisance behaviour in surrounding neighbourhoods.

“The neighbourhoods are then viewed negatively from residents and prospective residents of Houston which increases community division and isolation of vulnerable members of our population,” council said.

And lack of adequate housing discourages people from moving here, council added.

In the interim, the council, as part of the District’s strategic plan, to review the District’s current ability to enforce bylaws.

Needle exchange

Although there is a needle exchange program here, a provincial initiative through the Northern Health Authority, it’s also resulted in an increase of used needles being discarded in public areas, a health and safety issue for local residents.

And, council says, the province provides no money to the District for the cost of clean up and proper disposal of used needles, meaning the District must pay for these costs within its own limited operations budget.

Northern Health, in conjunction with the local harm reduction committee, has provided two needle disposal boxes which the District has now installed. One is at the community hall and another at the playground/duck pond entry access location.

Curbside recycling

There’s little chance of a local curbside recycling program unless the province changes its current policy of limiting such programs to municipalities of more than 5,000 people and provides the money to do so, says council.

It had planned to do a curbside recycling and composting feasibility study next year but shelved that when it became aware of the population-based restriction.

“Without access to a proper recycling program or facility, plastic from Houston will continue to end up in landfills,” council noted.

Residents now have to transport material to a regional district facility in Telkwa.

The District will undertake a solid waste audit next year.

More docs, health professionals

A third doctor recently arrived to assist the one full-time doctor, part time doctor and nurse practitioner here is being called a success by council but it’s calling for the province to support it and the Northern Healthy Authority in continuing recruitment and retention efforts.

“Ongoing development of local health services in Houston is necessary instead of continual reliance for service delivery in neighbouring towns that are not accessible to residents without transportation,” says council.

Council also wants the province to establish a 24X7 emergency facility, noting that it is at least a 45-minute drive, in good weather, to either hospitals in Burns Lake or in Smithers.

Currently, urgent care services are only available from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Social services lacking

More social workers are needed here to deal with a variety of issues, including efforts to solve a labour shortage by assisting people to become more employable, says council.

And families who need services may not be able to travel to other communities for assistance, council adds.

Among concerns raised by council to the social development and poverty reduction ministry are:

– allegations of social assistance to individuals being over-prescribed with no follow up

– lack of mental health and addictions support

– perceptions of work available combined with people deciding not to work

– lack of work or work search habits such as job attendance and employment applications

– individuals being trapped in a poverty cycle

Clarifying air quality regulations

Houston’s valley location, when combined with inversion layers on particularly cold and still days, results in trapped fine particulate emissions at a level much higher than other locations, increasing the chances of chronic diseases.

In a briefing note to environment minister George Heyman, council wants the province to clarify its role in reaching its own emissions standards and how it targets major contributors to those emissions.

It lists Hwy16 traffic, CN Rail, and the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline project as contributors.

“The goal of reducing the level [of fine particulate matter] is a goal of the province and was not initiated by council, therefore Houston should not be responsible for the financial enforcement of policies to reach this goal,” council stated.

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