Homelessness a part of Smithers landscape

A 2008 report estimated 250 people in Smithers live with homelessness.

For most British Columbians, the day ends settling into a comfortable bed and with winter approaching confident in the thought they are protected from the elements.

But for others, more than 15,500 people in British Columbia, the day rarely ends in a comfortable bed, according to a 2008 report entitled Housing and Support for Adults with Severe Addictions and/or Mental Illness in British Columbia.

Censusing homeless people, Michelle Patterson and co-authors said, is not an exact science, many don’t report themselves as being homeless, but they do exist, even in Smithers.

They’re out there, living in camps in the bush, spending nights on benches in various parks around town.

In fact, the 2008 report estimated at least 250 people lived with homelessness in Smithers.

The downturn in the economy didn’t help matters.

Broadway Place originally had 120 visits/month for help in various forms in 2009, but that number has since ballooned to 1,500 visits/month, Manager of Broadway Place Emergency Shelter Pauline Taekema said.

Many of the homeless in Smithers, like elsewhere in British Columbia, suffer from addictions and/or mental health issues and those with mental health issues can go undiagnosed for many years, Taekema said.

“They’ve burned their bridges and have a hard time getting references to move into another place,” Joan Wilmot, outreach worker at the shelter, said.

Lack of affordable housing, especially supported housing and poverty are also important factors driving homelessness in Smithers.

“Housing is very expensive,” Taekema said.

“Even utilities, especially in the winter,” Wilmot added.

In some cases, covering rent means other bills like utilities are neglected.

Single individuals living on social assistance from the province are allowed to spend up to $375/month on rent which leaves very few options in Smithers.

“It isn’t enough,” Wilmot said.

“It’s hard to find accommodations that fit into that budget.”

Sharing an apartment could open up opportunities, but issues such as addiction or mental health typically make sharing difficult.

Poverty also prevents some residents from participating in recreational activities

“For example, the poor can’t use the swimming pool,” Wilmot said.

Workers at Broadway Place try to find solutions, connecting clients with the Ministry of Social Development, as well as looking at alternative solutions including special allowances from crisis grants.

In the end, there is a housing shortage in Smithers and often the solution, out of necessity, for Taekema and Wilmot, is to look for housing in other communities.

Broadway Place Emergency Shelter works in cooperation with several other agencies in Smithers to try and provide the best help they can for the people that walk through their doors, including the Salvation Army, the hospital, BC Brain Injury, the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre, Positive Living North, the Anglican Church and others.

However these solutions are temporary.

“We need more affordable supported housing attached to services,” Taekema said.

The goal of supported housing, Wilmot explained, is to support individuals through the issues that affect their ability to keep their housing.

“We want to help them through the hoops so they’re successful,” Wilmot said.

“It’s difficult in Smithers because the housing is short and the rents are fairly steep.”

One of the problems, Wilmot said, is funding.

Smithers is a smaller town and thus receives less funding and services than larger centres,

“But we have the same problems,” Wilmot said.

Homelessness Awareness Week runs from Oct. 7 – Oct. 13.

Local groups are hosting a campout, Oct. 10 at the corner of Queen and Highway 16, set up begins at noon.

Oct. 11 there is an information booth at the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre, a pancake breakfast hosted by the Lion’s Club, and a coat exchange.

For information call: (250) 847-4660, (250) 877-0042.

Meanwhile, Taekema had just one request of Smithereens regarding the homeless.

“Listen to individuals,” Taekema said.

“They’re part of the community and should be treated as such.”