A temporary low barrier shelter opened in December 2021 in downtown Williams Lake is making a difference.
“It has been really helpful for us to connect with those clients and offer them services that in the past has been challenging,” said Tereena Donahue, acting executive director of Canadian Mental Health Association Cariboo Chilcotin Branch who operates the shelter at the Hamilton Inn with funding from BC Housing.
While some people may be reluctant at first to access services being offered, Donahue said they are finding after staying at the shelter some individuals become more comfortable with the idea.
“It is allowing us to keep connections with people while we work to find them housing or address some of the other issues that might be preventing them from being successfully housed.”
During a committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, Feb. 28, city council received a report about the Hamilton Inn shelter prepared by the city’s well-being and safety coordinator Silvia Dubray.
The report noted CMHA, BC Housing, city bylaw services, Interior Health, a harm reduction coordinator, street nurse and the RCMP have been working together to increase the general safety of the people staying at the shelter and to reduce the discomfort local residents have expressed in letters written to mayor and council.
Statistics in the report indicate the number of people using the shelter ranged from 21 people a month to the busiest being July 2023 when there were 68.
Ages of participants were from 19 to 80.
This winter, four of the rooms were designated for overnight cold weather shelter allowing space for 17 people who walked in or were brought in when the temperature was -10C or colder.
Between Nov. 1, 2022 and Jan. 31, 2023, 215 people stayed in the emergency rooms, many of those for several nights during periods of cold weather.
The report also noted during the intake process, individuals are asked if they identify with having mental health issues and 98 per cent said they have a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health disposition.
Some successes have resulted from the Hamilton.
Thirty-eight people have been moved into housing or rehabilitation centres, including 10 who were reunited with family and moved communities.
Two people moved communities and were place in subsidized housing, four moved into CMHA Jubilee Place Transitional Housing, 17 were moved into private market rental and seven of those are receiving rental subsidies from CMHA Community Bridge to Housing Program and two were connected with treatment outside of Williams Lake.
Three people died from the toxic drug supply, although the deaths did not occur at the Hamilton.
During the meeting Coun. Scott Nelson said he thinks CMHA is doing a fantastic job, but wants to ensure there is extra funding from BC Housing to keep clean the area within 300 metres of the shelter.
“When it warms up there will be more letters,” Nelson said.
Coun. Jazmyn Lyons visited the shelter and said she was happy to learn that right away when people come in they are meeting with health staff to come up with a plan.
Coun. Michael Moses said the work being done at the Hamilton is integral to the community.
“It is helping people find homes,” he said. “If the Hamilton has 20 to 30 people staying in it at anytime and has successfully rerouted 30 people to new homes, this is potentially 90 people that could be on the street.”
Donahue told the Tribune presently there is security on site from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., seven days a week.
“When we first opened our doors we were struggling to have two staff on at all times and security was assisting with that. Now we are well-staffed, although like everywhere we struggle with shortages if somebody is sick we don’t necessarily have a casual to fill in,” she said.
She added it has been many months since there has been an incident where security guards have had to intervene.
There are still people living outside in make-shift camps in Williams Lake, people who don’t want to go to the Hamilton or other shelters and not wanting that support, Donahue said.
Eyeing the future, she hopes to see a long-term solution, such as an expansion of Jubilee Place Transitional Housing.
“We are seeing more and more people who were housed, who were having difficulties making ends meet, but were doing it,” she said.
“Now something has changed in their life and it has tipped them to a point where they just cannot do it anymore.”
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