When Williams Lake does a homeless count on Tuesday, March 10, organizer Dustin Westerman is hoping it will be as accurate as possible.
Westerman has worked at the Cariboo Friendship Society (CFS) shelter for 12 years and recently moved over to be the properties manager.
“We are never going to get a proper count and we’ll be lucky if we get 50 per cent,” he told the Tribune. “As outreach workers we are aware of our street homeless but it’s the hidden ones we hope to bring out.”
By ‘hidden’ he means people who are couch surfing, staying with relatives, or even jails, hospitals or hotels for a few nights, because they cannot find affordable housing.
There wasn’t a homeless count done in 2019 in Williams Lake and as this is Westerman’s first time organizing it he has developed several different ways to carry it out.
Counters wearing yellow badges to identify themselves, and carrying clipboards, will be walking various routes in the city doing surveys.
Each survey is anonymous and voluntary, and the information gathered is to ensure the needs of the homeless in Williams Lake are known.
“We will have magnet events such as a breakfast from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. here at CFS on that day to draw people in off the streets who are homeless. We also encourage people from the community who are not homeless to come as we want to engage the general public with the issue,” Westerman said.
Surveys will also be done at the Cariboo Friendship Society’s Shelter, and other places such as the Cariboo Memorial Complex, Williams Lake Library, Salvation Army where lunch will be served as it normally is, and the Longhouse where volunteers will be baking goodies all day.
Westerman is hoping to identify a few more sites but has yet to firm those up.
“In Boitanio Park we will be serving bannock from 2 to 4 p.m.,” he added.
Shane Boxeur, a case manager at the CFS shelter, said with a basic capacity of 30 people and up to 40 when in overflow, the shelter has been full most nights for a year and a half.
“The men’s floor is completely booked right now,” Boxeur said.
Last summer Boxeur and Westerman saw more homeless camps in Williams Lake than they’ve seen in previous years.
“Homeless numbers have definitely gotten bigger,” Boxeur said. “All the time people are coming up to here from other areas. We have lots from 100 Mile House, Kamloops, Vancouver and from Quesnel.”
On Tuesday, March 10, they will begin at 7 a.m. and go until 6 p.m.
More volunteers are needed and Westerman encourages anyone who is interested to call him at 250-398-6831 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homeless counts will be happening across the province between March 1 and April 30 and Quesnel is doing its on the same day as Williams Lake.
This year’s homeless count in Williams Lake is being sponsored by the provincial government and the Homelessness Services Association of B.C.