The Smithers Action Group Association (SAGA) is sending out volunteers from a number of non-profit organizations this week to find out the number of homeless people in Smithers, with the ultimate goal of using that information to access funding for a new 15-unit supportive housing complex in town.
“It would be for people who have multi-barriers: addictions, mental health issues,” said SAGA’s Joanne Voss.
“They would be without proper housing to qualify for living in the building.”
Voss is hoping to eventually work with Northern Health to help staff the facility after it was built. Multiple partners would be needed to staff the complex 24/7, which would have people living in one-person units.
So far the project is just getting started. Talks with BC Housing made it clear that the information gathered by a homeless survey would be necessary to acquire funding. Voss said a $35,000 federal grant SAGA received would help with the count and to start a partnership strategy.
Independent research and planning consultant Matt Thomson said the methodology is well established over the last 10-15 years in B.C.
“For the four or five years the City of Vancouver has been conducting an annual count,” said Thomson.
Terrace also conducted a homeless survey last winter with Thomson’s help on methodology.
“Drawing on local knowledge that service providers and frontline workers have of where homeless people are: where they’re accessing services, where they might be getting a meal program, where they might be hanging out, safe places they might have to stay out of the cold,” explained Thomson.
Volunteers are conducting the survey Thursday and Friday.
“We want to know how long they may have been homeless, whether they’ve been living in Smithers for long periods of time or whether they’re fairly new arrivals. Because of the changes that are happening in northwestern B.C. right now, anecdotally we’re hearing that there are lots of new folks sort of flocking up to Kitimat, Terrace, Smithers, Prince Rupert; so this is a way to see if that is affecting the homeless population or if it’s more of the core population that’s been here for a while.
“We want to know what kinds of services the homeless population is going to be using; general mental health and addiction issues,” said Thomson.
“We’re also looking at following up at the soup kitchen program on Saturday… That’s going to be more surveying around people who are marginally housed, so people who are housed but in inappropriate circumstances or paying a lot and needing access to a soup kitchen,” said Thomson, who came from the Sunshine Coast to help SAGA.
The Smithers Action Group formed 10 years ago to help the homeless and people with mental health issues. It was turned into a non-profit association in 2012 to apply for funding programs.