A housing project that has helped eradicate homelessness in Medicine Hat, Alta. is being launched in Williams Lake.
“Medicine Hat is claiming they essentially ended homelessness in their community and they did it in five years using this approach,” said Anne Burrill who is managing the federally funded Housing First Planning Project. “We wanted people to know it’s happening in our community as well.”
Canadian Mental Health homelessness worker Wayne Lucier is part of the Homelessness and Housing Committee in Williams Lake that will advise on the project.
“Our obstacle in Williams Lake is lack of affordable housing,” Lucier said. “Most people I work with cannot afford rent and some of those are people earning minimum wage.”
Lucier said the government needs to provide more subsidies and the problem in Williams Lake is the fact that as each low rental building’s mortgage is paid up, the owner is no longer eligible for subsidies.
“We had that happen with the Cariboo Friendship Society and in one or two years the same thing will happen at Cariboo Sunset Manor,” Lucier said, noting the majority of tenants are seniors or people with disabilities.
Between March 2014 and April 2015, he worked with 111 new homeless clients, another 300 were repeat customers, but 100 of those were actually couch surfing and staying with friends.
“This time of year we see people moving into the city from outlying communities because of the lack of necessities,” Lucier said. “Tomorrow I am meeting with someone who is still living in his camper.”
Lucier has a storage container that ebbs and flows with donations he uses to help homeless people when they move into a place.
He receives calls daily from people needing tables, chairs, couches and beds.
There are also people coming into his office looking for winter boots and socks, if anybody has any to donate.
“There’s the little things people don’t think about like shampoo and soap,” Lucier added.
“If you’ve got those little packages from hotels piling up drop them off to me or at the Friendship Society.”
Burrill and Lucier are hopeful the community will become engaged in the Housing First project.
“It’s been said a million times if you house people then the overall costs for a community will go down,” Lucier said.
In about eight to 10 months Burrill will be looking for landlords with a social conscious who might be willing to provide affordable housing.
Burrill’s position as social development manager with the City of Williams Lake was discontinued in January when the newly-elected city council eliminated eight positions to save money.
Still passionate to continue the work she’d started at the city, Burrill worked with other community groups to apply for funding and Fraser Basin Council Cariboo-Chilcotin agreed to hold the Housing First contract.
“We need to move beyond managing and serving homeless people, and focus on ending homelessness all together,” Burrill said.
Anyone wanting more information can be reach Burrill by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.