Robert Charlie, a hereditary chief from the Burns Lake Band, commended the community of Smithers for being among the few that address the issues of homelessness.
Charlie was just one member of a five-panel group which was composed primarily of members of area social service groups. Each member explained their organization’s role in the homelessness issue. The panel consisted of Michael Melia, manager for Northern Health’s Mental Health and Addictions, Northwest Rural programs; Katherine Woodward, representing the Northern Society for Domestic Peace; Pauline Taekema, the manager for the Broadway Place shelter; and Pauline Goertzen for Nadina Community Futures.
The need for answers on the homeless question is growing in the area, as demand for services increases.
Taekema said that over the past couple of months the Broadway Shelter has gone from seeing about 100 individual visits in a month to over 1,000.
“They’re in-town people that are just trying to make ends meat, trying to stretch their funds all month,” she said.
There are several options of varying cost in dealing with housing for people, explained Toby Coupé, the Bulkley Valley Regional Coordinator for the B.C. Schizophrenic Society. Citing a report presented to the Select Standing Committee on Finance that was presented last month by Brian Fuhr, she said that hospital stays provides the costliest housing option for people, costing $500 a day.
While hospitals are of course not designed as permanent housing options, statistics show that mentally ill homeless people tend to stay 84 days in a hospital, compared to 14 days by people who do have stable homes.
The housing option the Smithers Action Group is focusing on now is supervised apartments, which cost $21 to $88 a day. Their proposal, which they introduced at last week’s homelessness forum, is based on the Portland Hotel Society, an initiative at work in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. It’s an eviction-free rental option that provides on-site support for residents.
“There’s two ingredients that are necessary for people … permanent accommodation and support in place full time. That’s what we figure is the best alternative for the hard-to-house people,” said Coupé.
Users of Broadway Place shelter are frequently referred to other sources of service to help them out, especially in the areas of housing, but what’s available in Smithers provides a challenge.
“We do try to get as many people as we can into safe, secure hosing but that housing is not available in Smithers. We’re sending them out of town, finding them housing in different communities, but then we’re seeing them come back again because they’re not getting the support, services that they need that they have found in Smithers.”
Houston is one of those towns that provides access to housing for people. Coupé said that Houston is good because they have an excess of housing. There are entire apartment units that don’t require the references that many landlords in Smithers require, which helps out hard-to-house people and people just starting out.
Community partnerships are a significant source for developing community projects.
Melia said that their programs are developed through community partnerships which go a long way to their success. Adult addictions day treatment programs are an example of community partnerships bringing a program to light.
They have developed the program to be low barrier — people can start and stop the program as needed — and he said there have been encouraging stories come out of it. And when people are engaging in their recovery they are in a good place to start looking at their housing situation, he said.
“It is recognized that people with mental health and addictions issues do struggle around securing affordable, secure housing and I think it’s important to Northern Health around our mission and values ….. that we partner with communities and that we’re seen to be part of community initiatives.”