What will Richmond be like a decade from now when it comes to providing social services for its residents?
A sweeping document compiled by the city intended as a guide to the decision-making process on future social services is designed to answer that question.
Called Building Our Social Future—A Social Development Strategy for Richmond, it envisions the Richmond of 2022 as an engaged and caring community.
In order to help achieve that, the city is now embarking on getting feedback from Richmond’s host of community service organizations, finding out what they believe will be required as the demographics and needs of the local population shift and grow.
It’s quite a challenge, but one the city needs to undertake to ensure social services remain relevant and effective, said Coun. Bill McNulty who chairs Richmond’s planning committee.
“This will give us focus and direction of what the city’s responsibility is,” said McNulty. “Too often, people think the city should be doing everything, including the other levels of government because we’ve had a lot of downloading over the last 20 years.”
McNulty added that the city has been “more than generous in the social services area, but we have a long way to go yet.
“We’re a very large city now. We’re over 200,000 people and with that comes many of the social services responsibilities.”
The document that city council reviewed at Monday night’s meeting — described as a social development equivalent to an official community plan — has been in the making for the past year.
The next six weeks are earmarked for public consultation. Then the document will be sent back to city staff for any changes before it comes back before city council for adoption.
“I think it’s all-encompassing,” McNulty said. “The outstanding thing is it defines the city’s role and resources, and where we can make an impact. But we are only one of the partners.”
One of those groups planning to provide input is Richmond Centre for Disability whose board chair, Vince Miele, said the city has been proactive in the past at addressing social services issues.
“And to be part of this is a continuation of what (the city) do well in bringing all of us together to review things that will affect us in the future,” he said.
The big challenge is always staying on top of accessibility issues, he added, many of which are upheld by laws.
“In that case it’s up to those of us with disabilities to speak up when we come across situations where we see the laws are not being kept up, or people are abusing it,” Miele said.
Asked what he’d like to add on the social services ledger as he gazes into the future, Miele said education would be high on his list.
“Something that we (the disabled community) always seem to have a challenge with is attitudes,” Miele said. “They are certainly changing. But attitudes are maybe a little more difficult to change than architectural barriers.”
For example, that can include understanding why disabled parking spots are set aside in public areas.
“Some people don’t care, they just want that spot,” Miele said. “Some people also don’t leave enough room in aisle ways in smaller stores, making it difficult for someone in a wheelchair to get through the aisles.
“But it’s up to us to provide that type of education so that they do understand.”
The provision of adequate and affordable social housing in the future for those with mental health issues is one of the priorities for the Richmond Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Executive director Dave MacDonald added he’d also like to see enough room set aside for community groups to set up shop, “making sure there is a presence for providing support in the city core.”
MacDonald added he understands there is a lot of re-development happening in the No. 3 Road, core area, that could make locating non-profit groups unaffordable.
“That’s tough with land costs, but you don’t want these viable organizations pushed out to the outskirts of the community where there are less citizens living.”