A homelessness worker in Williams Lake says he knows of about 20 people who are couch surfing or without a place to live.
“I also know of some people who are going to have to move because they will not be able to afford to stay where they have been living,” said Wayne Lucier with the Canadian Mental Health Association Cariboo Chilcotin Branch.
Shaking his head, Lucier said the present rate for a single person receiving social assistance is $710 a month and that is meant to cover all expenses.
“Rents are averaging $850 a month in Williams Lake,” he muttered. “Nine or 10 years ago I could find places for people.”
Tamara Robinson, director of family services and community outreach with the Salvation Army, said she would discourage people to come to Williams Lake if they are looking for affordable housing.
“The agencies in town are stretched and our resources are not infinite,” she said. “Everyone is working to try and solve the homeless problem in our community.”
This fall there have been about six people camping underneath the overpass by Highway 20 and Mackenzie Avenue, she added.
Cariboo Friendship Society social programs supervisor Tamara Garreau said no one has been turned away from the society’s shelter on Third Avenue South as a result of COVID-19 though the number of beds has been reduced to be able to safely accommodate people accessing the shelter.
“Our numbers have decreased again after a period of high numbers,” she said. “If clients are being turned away it would only be related to extreme behaviour. Each case is unique and individual and has the potential for a review.”
If cases result in suspension then the shelter will still provide a meal and warm clothing, Garreau noted.
“When the weather turns colder the shelter will move to winter hours and stay open during the day. Everyone who presents to the shelter in need of warmth, clothing, or food will be provided with that regardless of past behaviour.”
Dina Kennedy, who retired from the Salvation Army last year, continues to lead a street outreach program on Saturday evenings from the army’s emergency disaster service truck.
Volunteers prepare meals, snacks and beverages at 8 p.m. and go out into the community until midnight.
“We seek to find the homeless and attempt to connect them with various resources we have in Williams Lake,” Kennedy said. “We are providing assistance with immediate survival needs and building rapport with the individuals to ensure they have emotional support, access to different agencies in town, health care and housing.”
In 2020 Kennedy and her volunteers have helpd 880 people to date, served more than 3,000 meals, handed out 57 sleeping bags to people sleeping outdoors, on park benches, in the bushes, under bridges, store fronts and bank entryways.
“One night alone we fed 53 people and ran out of food.”
Anyone with donations of socks, hygiene kits or gloves would be greatly appreciated, Kennedy said, adding donations can be dropped off at the Salvation Army Family Services at 272 Borland Street or by calling her at 250-296-4372.
Lucier insists that government money received due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt people with substance use issues.
“For people with addictions that got their hands on money, their addictions have got worse,” Lucier said.
Another issue he said ‘scares’ him is the level of violence he’s witnessed or heard about.
“I’m worried it will only get worse. Now you hear about more fights. People on the streets are not looking after each other as much as before and I think it because of the drugs. It’s the same in Kamloops and Prince George. There are way more people on the streets.”