A street nurse working in Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and surrounding First Nations communities said the amount of poverty and homelessness she sees is heartbreaking.
“We don’t have a lot of affordable housing in Williams Lake so people, whether they are working, or on assistance don’t have enough money to pay for the little bit of housing that we have,” Lyn Temple said. “We have people accessing the shelter, couch surfing, staying with friends and family, and some people choose to camp.”
Temple has been Interior Health’s street nurse for almost three years and in that time has seen the number of people living with poverty increase.
She met with the City a couple of times over the summer to talk about concerns around people camping and their safety.
“There were people at the meeting from mental health, the Salvation Army, Community Bridge to Housing First and we went to the Salvation Army at lunch and talked with people. We know they are going to camp so we were asking what we could do to make them safer.”
Temple gave people garbage bags from the City, sharp needle containers, and suggested places to camp that are maybe better than others.
“When we met with five people who were camping, the thing that really struck me was how tired they were,” she said. “Every town is dealing with homelessness, it’s nothing new. But when I talked to other communities I learned they had a relationship with their homeless. It was a partnership and that’s what we were trying to develop.”
In Williams Lake people cannot camp in the winter, so the Partners in Community Collaboration group she chairs in Williams Lake is still trying to see what can be done to help.
Another issue is the fact the detox centres such as Renner House and Gateway are often full.
“For a person to access treatment is quite a process and there is no treatment centre here so that’s a problem for some people.”
She does many Naloxone presentations all over town and out of town and provides harm reduction information.
“I operate from a harm reduction lens and provide safe supplies to decrease the chance of communicable disease. If you stop one case of HIV or Hepatitis C by providing clean needles and pipes it saves the system money. It’s a difficult for some people to accept the concept, but harm reduction is very well-researched, well backed-up.”
In addition to her street nurse role, she is a health outreach worker and provides testing and information to people that have HIV.
“HIV is now considered a chronic illness versus a death sentence and treatment can be as little as one pill a day and people live long healthy lives and now there is a cure for Hep C in as little as three months someone can be completely cured. So, I am always encouraging testing for almost everyone.”
She can do HIV and STD testing by appointment, she added.
Referrals are also a big thing — getting people into see a dentist or accessing mental health services.
“There are new people in town that have come from other places for sure, but the problem is you cannot camp year round here,” she said.
Temple has been a nurse since 1996 and used to work for public health.
There is stigma attached when people come into her office in the government building on Borland Street right across from the RCMP detachment, Temple said.
“We are encouraged to be kind and non-judgmental. Someone mentioned that a pregnant girl came in for clean drug supplies and we said, ‘yes, it was courageous of her. We don’t know another person’s situation.”
Lots of people have experienced trauma and Temple encourages everyone to be trauma-informed.
“Part of that is never underestimating kindness,” she added.
She is originally from Dawson Creek and met her husband, Mark in Tumbler Ridge. They have a daughter Nicole who is a nurse and son Bradford who is a concrete finisher. They moved to Williams Lake in 1987 when Mark was hired to work at Gibraltar Mine.