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Housing activist says N.L. government's homelessness task force is nothing but a 'press conference'

The Newfoundland and Labrador government announced Thursday that it's creating a new task force to address homelessness, but one activist hopes the move isn't too little, too late.

Mark Wilson says there's not enough detail about what task forces goals and timelines are

A man wearing a hat and neon yellow jacket stands outside on a winter day.
Mark Wilson, a housing activist and volunteer in St. John's, hopes the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s new homelessness task force isn't too little, too late. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

As more people set up home at a tent encampment in St. John's, some advocates are left wondering how a new government task force will help the people living there.

They're also hoping the government's latest move isn't too little, too late.

Housing activist Mark Wilson says he frequently visits the people in the encampment and government officials should do the same.

"Without stepping foot here and without asking folks that are residents that are homeless or organizers here to be part of that task force," said Wilson, "it sort of seems a little backwards to me, doesn't it to you?"

The provincial government announced Thursday that it's creating a new task force on homelessness. The announcement comes nearly two months after people began setting camp outside the provincial legislature to demand action on homelessness, and weeks after they migrated to the Colonial Building in downtown St. John's.

Scant on details

Premier Andrew Furey said the new task force will address broad homelessness factors as well as acute issues within the encampment, and will have representatives from provincial and municipal governments, as well as community groups.

Wilson says the task force announcement was scant on details.

"It has no goals, no established timeline," he said. "There is nothing there. This task force is nothing except a press conference that they had yesterday."

WATCH | Mark Wilson says there are no details and no timelines on task force: 

Details too few on homelessness task force: activist

3 months ago
Duration 0:39
While the N.L. and municipal governments are vowing to work together to help people who want services that would help get them out of tents in Bannerman Park in St. John’s, housing activist and volunteer Mark Wilson says there are no details and no timelines for when anything will be done.

Wilson says the provincial government needs to provide more support to harm reduction teams and community groups who visit the tent encampment daily.

He also says more resources need to be dedicated to solving the underlying issues that lead to homelessness, for instance, by speaking with people one-on-one and connecting them with appropriate mental health resources.

He says it's also important to have people from the tent encampment represented on the task force.

WATCH  If it's so important, political leaders, have you gone to the tent encampment at Bannerman Park? 

Politicians say helping people living in tents is a priority. So who has actually gone there?

3 months ago
Duration 0:41
The government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the City of St. John’s have announced they will work together, along with community representatives, on a task force — amid complaints not enough is being done to halt a homelessness crisis that includes a tent encampment in a prominent St. John's park. At that announcement, a reporter wanted to know: who went to the camp after the first snowstorm? Who has visited it at all?

On Friday, Wilson posted on Facebook that the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees donated a porta-potty to the encampment at Colonial Building, a couple of days after the closure of the public bathroom at Bannerman Park.

"Too bad the City of St. John's and government of Newfoundland and Labrador couldn't pick up the phone and order some for themselves," reads the post.

Early Friday evening, the City of St. John's announced the bathrooms would reopen on Saturday, with "additional resources arranged in collaboration with the provincial government, such as enhanced cleaning and security" to keep the bathrooms open 24 hours a day.

Meanwhile, Doug Pawson, the executive director of End Homelessness St. John's, said the province's announcement of the task force was "long overdue."

The organization has an outreach team that visits the encampment daily, says Pawson, with staff helping people complete housing and income support applications.

A man wearing a beige winter coat stands outside in the snow.
Doug Pawson, the executive director of End Homelessness St. John's, says the province's announcement to have a task force dedicated to homelessness was long overdue. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

He says he's never seen the provincial government dedicate this much political will to homelessness.

"I mean, whenever we talk about homelessness, we always talk about it as a failure of public systems, and the only thing that combats that is political will to do this," said Pawson.

"So we're excited that the province and the city and the premier and the mayor are committed to seeing this work through and to work with community and those with lived experience to make this happen."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Singer is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador. She has worked in CBC newsrooms in Toronto and St. John's. You can reach her at jessica.singer@cbc.ca

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