The 59 people identified during a homeless count on Feb. 16 do not represent the total picture, according to Ian McLaughlin who chairs the Williams Lake Housing and Homelessness Committee that conducted the survey.
“Our count was done in one day and there’s no way you’re going to capture everybody,” McLaughlin told the Tribune. “In terms of knocking on people’s doors that was only done at the housing complexes on Carson Drive.”
Members of the committee also went to the Salvation Army, the Friendship Society and other places that homeless people gather.
However, homelessness outreach worker Wayne Lucier who helped with the count said ideally it would need to be done from Glendale all the way through the city to get the real number.
On average Lucier reaches out to 162 people a year, or 13.5 people a month, who are looking for a home.
“In a small town like ours, many of the homeless are hidden,” Lucier said. “They are able to locate a couch at a friend’s or four or five people will crash at an apartment.”
Lucier said as an example, he recently visited a woman who set up bunk beds in her living room for people who need a place to stay.
“I’m the busiest I’ve been in six or seven years,” Lucier said of the growing needs in the community.
Standing inside an almost empty metal shipping container he uses to store donations, Lucier said any used home furnishings would be appreciated, and will find their way to good homes.
The numbers tallied during the count will be used by the homelessness committee to apply for funding to the federal government to bring the Housing First program into Williams Lake, McLaughlin said.
Cities like Kamloops already have the program, which is credited with reducing homelessness.
“It shows what kind of outcomes are possible,” added Tom Salley, a Canadian Mental Health Association advocacy and support worker.
Presently the average rent in the city is $600 a month for a one bedroom apartment, which is problematic because people on social assistance receive about $610 a month.
“Many of the places that rent for $600 are not what one would call safe housing,” Salley said.
If the community is successful in obtaining funding, a Housing First program could build on existing services such as the shelter the Friendship Society operates, Jubilee Place that Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) operates and the Salvation Army who is working on setting up some emergency beds for when the weather gets really cold, McLauglin said.
McLaughlin has been the executive director of CMHA for one year and runs the Williams Lake Association for Community Living, something he’s done for 30 years.
There are two group homes in town for adults affected by developmental disabilities and programs exist for people with disabilities who live on their own to receive support with shopping, banking, or whatever they need to ensure they are successful on their own.
A Housing First program would bring needed supports to the community by building more affordable housing, he said.
Landlords are engaging with the homelessness committee, McLaughlin noted.
“I’m exploring some options with our funders so we can sit down with rental owners. Their concern is that they end up cleaning up the mess when people wreck their places.”
He said rental owners are hopeful the committee can act as the middle man, making sure rents are paid and minor damages are repaired.
“That would be part of the Housing First dollars if we were successful that we would be hoping to implement here so that landlords aren’t having to deal with high risk tenants,” McLaughlin added.
The Association for Community Living is also working on a proposal to build a partially subsidized apartment building, outside the Housing First program, McLauglin said.