Homeless issues coming to light next week

Homelessness Action Week next week.

The community is getting set to sit down and have a discussion revolving around how to handle the area homeless population.

Community stakeholders and just concerned residents will be conducting the discussion to the backdrop of National Homeless Action Week, which runs Oct. 10 to 16th.

On Thursday, Oct. 13 a community forum is scheduled at the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre, following a full day of open information on homeless issues.

Like last year there will be a full day of information and services, including a hair cutting service for those who may not otherwise be able to afford it.

There will be a Lions Club pancake breakfast at 8:30 a.m. as well.

At 4 p.m. the informational posters will come down and organizers will set up for the evening discussion which will include a follow-up to action taken since last year’s event, as well as a talk about some initiatives of the Smithers Action Group (SAG) which includes a proposal to develop a special kind of housing project, modeled after the Portland Hotel Society (PHS).

PHS, explained SAG member Bill Goodacre, is a project that provides housing with no eviction policy. The units are staffed with support services that may be required for residents but it does provide stable living.

“It was specifically designed to deal with people who have multiple barriers,” said Goodacre.

“We’re looking at that and that’s going to be talked about at the forum,” he said.

Homelessness is a more serious issue in Smithers than some may realize. Goodacre said the standard number considered around here is close to 250 people who are living, almost all the time, at risk of not having a home.

It’s not simply circumstances like addictions that keep people without a home either. With the cost of living as high as it is, many people are spending more of their income on housing than they should.

Typically, 30 per cent of your income should go towards rent or housing, but many around here pay far more than that, sometimes over 50 per cent.

“There’s a lot of people now living in Houston who’d like to live in Smithers because there’s more services in Smithers and their friends live here,” he said. But, “The vacancy rate in the rental market is very tight and it’s extremely tight at the low end.”

A lot of people on social assistance have about $400 to spend on rent, he said, while rents can easily get up to $600. In that case, money for food and other needs get shifted.

“You run into some very dicey situations,” he said. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to know what kind of stress that’s going to put on a person or a family, especially if there’s kids involved.”

Awareness is the main objective with the discussions on the 13th, and it’s important for people to know that the organizers are looking for the perspectives of everybody.

“We really want to emphasize this is something we’d like the general public to participate in as much as possible,” he said. “We’re looking for community voices to be engaged in the conversation.”

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