Taking a stand on social housing

Saturday at 1 p.m. join the Stand for Social Housing event at the corner of Highway 16 and Queen Street in Smithers.

One is too many, but there are about 250 people in Smithers who need housing, according to a 2008 report entitled Housing and Support for Adults with Severe Addictions and/or Mental Illness in British Columbia.

The problem is there isn’t enough housing available, Pauline Taekema, Smithers Community Services, manager of the Broadway Place Emergency Shelter, said.

“We’re always struggling to find residences for the people that access Broadway Place,” Taekema said.

It’s an issue that can only get worse without government intervention.

To that end, community groups across the province, including in Smithers, are trying to raise awareness with a Stand for Social Housing and Rent Control campaign to force provincial politicians to make social housing an election issue.

“We want to get the word out there, before the elections, about housing in B.C. and the lack thereof,” Taekema said.

To bring attention to the issue, various social service organizations in Smithers are joining the province-wide Stand for Social Housing event by standing at the corner of Highway 16 and Queen Street in Smithers, the first Saturday of each month between now and the election.

The consequences of homelessness or at risk of being homeless can leave individuals in situations that are neither pleasant nor safe.

“Feeling invisible to some, victim of others, sometimes having to sell myself for a place to stay,” is how one homeless person described their reality during a roundtable discussion on homelessness in the Bulkley Valley.

The homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless face many barriers, from economic, to discrimination, addiction and mental illness, manager at Positive Living North, Melanie Monds added.

“People on income assistance receive $375 a month and have trouble making ends meet,” Taekema explained.

“Many are on disability, so it’s not enough,” Monds said.

Monds said many of the people she sees are on long-term disability with limited incomes and they are spending up to 50 per cent of their income on rent.

Consequently, many end up having to decide between food, utilities, medication and lodging.

“Some individuals are at risk of losing their housing, they come to the shelter and other services looking for support to help them make it through the month,” Taekema said.

That support includes accessing meal programs to try and stretch their dollars, Monds said.

In addition to the cost of renting, there can be issues with addictions and/or with mental illness.

“Mental illness plays a big part in people’s inability to get adequate and safe housing,” Toby Coupe, coordinator with the B.C. Schizophrenia Society said.

“Social housing is a complex issue,” Coupe added.

By way of example, Coupe described a client who suffers from alcoholism and has trouble finding adequate housing.

“His reputation precedes him,” she said.

In Smithers, only the King Street Apartments offer single room occupancy, but they are always booked and have just raised their rents, Taekema said.

A local initiative, The Smithers Supportive Housing Project, led by Joan Leclair, is trying to make a dent in the housing situation.

The goal of the project is to provide supportive housing for 15 individuals in a 15 unit apartment, that would see residents have round-the-clock access to care, Coupe said.

Unfortunately, the project has a five-year timeline, but Smithers needs social housing now.

Taekema, Monds and Coupe invite the public to join them from 1 2 p.m. Saturday, March 2.