Williams Lake needs affordable housing, said Trevor Barnes, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Cariboo Chilcotin Branch.
“If someone’s not safe, they are not thinking about anything except the fact that they can be harmed,” Barnes told city council during a presentation at its last meeting. “If someone is hungry or cold, they are not going to be thinking about going and applying for a job at that moment.”
Without proper shelter people cannot even begin to make life changes, he added.
Three years ago CMHA opened Jubilee Place — an older motel made into a transition place for homeless people.
Current manager Jesse Giddens said within the first three months its 35 units were full and there has been a waiting list of 12 or higher ever since.
“Often people come in looking for a job then we learn they have no house, no phone and nowhere to shower,” Giddens said. “We don’t have enough affordable housing. I wish there was a simple answer, but it’s a significant investment needed to get housing in place.”
Once housing is in place, communities can save lots of money in policing resources, hospital stays, even the cost of someone staying overnight in a shelter.
“It’s more of an investment in our community than a one-time cost,” Giddens said.
The other issue is an aging population and the fact 20 to 30 percent of the people lacking housing are falling into the being over 60 years old category.
“It’s challenging to house these people and then we have some people who are under 25 or even as young as 16.”
Staff are on 24 hours a day at Jubilee Place, providing advocacy support to help people receive some sort of income or if they need help with legal issues.
“Many individuals have some sort of medical or mental health condition that has not been addressed in the past,” Giddens said.
Homeless outreach worker Wayne Lucier has been in his job for seven years.
“It started out as a one-year pilot project,” he said.
Initially CMHA was awarded seven spots for seven workers to try and help decrease the number of homeless people in communities, and Williams Lake was one of them.
“With the help of income assistance we fast-track clients who are homeless and try to bring about changes to help them find housing,” he said.
The fast-tracking — done online and by phone — has reduced what was a five to six-week wait time to 78 hours. In its seventh year, the program now has more than 500 users who report on the data base.
He said at the beginning it was very time consuming making the contacts, and gaining their trust.
“It must have worked because most of my time now is spent in my office,” Lucier said of community buy-in.
“I wish I could say my job’s getting easier, but actually I think it’s getting harder.”
Rent increases and cost of living are still making it difficult for most of his clients.
Lucier said the Container Guys donated a container which he keeps behind his office to store beds, couches, tables, chairs and everything that’s been donated.
That way when he finds a home for someone, he can furnish it immediately.
“And I will not take anything that I cannot put in my own house,” Lucier said.
Barnes said the container is sometimes filled and emptied twice in one week.
Alcohol is still one of the community’s biggest problems, but the numbers of people congregating in Boitanio Park has been going down, Lucier said.
“We are not going to change the whole world and we can only help the clients who want to be helped, but without the changes that we can give them they will simply struggle.”
Coun. Sue Zacharias said when Jubilee Place was first proposed she received calls from angry people, “especially in the business sector,” not wanting to see a business property turned into a place for homeless people.
“I honestly had no trouble saying sorry you don’t understand it at this time. This is a decision I feel good about making,” she said.
“There’s got to be other properties in town. There’s a good case of lobbying for this type of housing when you look at the significant impact on the other costs you’ve mentioned.”