Municipal councillors in Gibsons and Sechelt say they’re willing to support a “Sunshine Coast Together” project, which would, in the organizer’s words, “encourage and facilitate neighbourhood-level social connection, resilience, and mutual aid on the Sunshine Coast.”
In presentations to the two councils May 19 and 20, Naomi Fleschhut of Resilient Coast said the idea grew out of work they’ve been doing since 2017 to help neighbourhoods with things like emergency preparedness or building amenities that help bring residents together.
“Social connectedness is recognized as a key determinant of health and well being, and it’s really a fundamental component of community resilience,” Fleschhut said to councillors in Sechelt. “Unfortunately, research also shows right now that social isolation is on the rise in Canada, and that fact is exacerbated by our current socioeconomic challenges of the pandemic and physical distancing measures.”
Fleschhut said before the COVID-19 pandemic they were planning a forum that would focus on how design of the built environment could promote social connectedness and resilience.
“We wanted to be more responsive to community need in this time so we decided to pivot the use of our Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) funds and that’s where the Sunshine Coast Together project was born,” she said.
“Ideally in an emergency, the more people can take care of themselves and each other, the less pressures there are on the emergency response from an institutional level that really should go to the most vulnerable, so the opportunity is to reduce the pool of the people who will need help,” Fleschhut told Gibsons council.
As well as using funding from VCH, the people behind the Sunshine Coast Together project are hoping to tap into money being made available through the BC Healthy Communities Society to “support projects that foster community connections while citizens are called upon to be physically distant.”
That’s where the local governments come in. Grants of up to $5,000 are being offered to municipalities, regional districts and First Nations.
Fleschhut said the unique situation of the Sunshine Coast as a small area with multiple levels of local government means that a combined application for one or more of the $5,000 grants would probably be successful.
Fleschhut said other potential partners for the project include community associations, which Resilient Coast has already worked with in its other initiatives, and the Sunshine Coast Community Taskforce, which was set up in response to the pandemic.
“Some of the [Sechelt] community associations have indicated they are interested in taking this and moving it forward,” said Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers. “So I’m excited by this.”
Gibsons Mayor Bill Beamish said he can see the benefit of the project and would support the idea of partnership with the local governments on securing the funding.
“I think it's a critical failure of the Sunshine Coast that we think we’re a connected community, but there’s not many people who are actually connected to their direct neighbours,” said Sechelt Coun. Matt McLean. “In the event of a natural disaster like an earthquake, we’re going to need to rely on the people right close to us.”
Although indicating support, neither council voted to move forward with a funding application at this point.
The idea will be presented to the Sunshine Coast Regional District board on June 11.