In the last three months half a dozen homeless people have been successfully housed thanks to a Housing First Project initiated November 2015 in Williams Lake.
The project is in partnership with a landlord, the project’s manager Anne Burrill told city council during its regular meeting Tuesday.
All six clients are receiving rent subsidies for six months and are accessing existing support services in the community, she added.
“We developed a trial and launched it late October and early November,” Burrill told council. “So far it has been very successful.”
To be eligible for the project, clients had to be homeless and connected to an existing support system or organization.
They participated in a rental workshop to make sure they would learn how to be good tenants and they could not be involved in any criminal activity, Burrill said.
For this first intake, Housing First has worked with Williams Lake Rentals on the project.
“They have been very supportive and housed all of our clients to date and contributed a lot to the program in terms of what landlords need to protect their investments,” Burrill added.
Development of the project has included consultation with the RCMP, the Canadian Mental Health Association and organizations that have direct contact with homeless people.
Initially Housing First interviewed homeless people and then brought them together with service providers to discuss the challenges, even creating a client journey map.
Burill said two years ago a count conducted over a 24-hour period showed there were 59 homeless people in Williams Lake.
Another count is scheduled to take place at the beginning of March to update the numbers.
The Canadian Mental Health Association homeless outreach program sees more than 400 homeless people in a year, Burrill said, noting Housing First has secured 40 per cent of the funding needed to develop a three-year pilot project.
Over the three years it is hoped to help 20 to 25 individuals each year, in partnership with other service providers, find suitable homes and become independent if possible.
It is estimated that in the end a homeless person living on the streets can end up costing a community anywhere from $35,000 to more than $200,000, Burrill said.
Housing First was started in New York in 1992 and has been implemented in communities in Canada including Calgary, Medicine Hat, Kamloops and Victoria.
Medicine Hat has almost eradicated homelessness with the approach, Burrill said.
Williams Lake is one of the first smaller cities to implement the program and has benefited from the generosity of a number of generous donations to help people make a home who had “absolutely” nothing.
“The funding we have secured so far is private funding,” Burrill said. “We have some work to get the provincial government and Interior Health at our table like they are at larger communities.”
Coun. Scott Nelson said it is a challenging and stressful environment for homeless people.
“I acknowledge the work your group has done,” he told Burrill. “You are assisting these individuals to get back on track and find the right place.”
Company helps house homeless
Housing the homeless is something Williams Lake Rentals Ltd. believes in, said Twila Nelson who owns the company with her husband and city councillor Scott Nelson.
“As a company it’s very important that we help our community by housing people that are less fortunate,” Nelson told the Tribune Thursday.
“With the right support, which the housing community gives us, it has been very easy for us to put homeless people into buildings. Without that support, the whole system kind of breaks down.
“At the end of the day we are just managers of buildings and cannot be there all the time.”
Being able to voice their concerns from their perspectives as landlords has been beneficial, Nelson said.
“We had a meeting with Anne and we told her utilities have to be paid, we have to know where the people are and we can’t have transients coming in and out and there could be no couch surfing. Those kinds of things became very evident for us to move forward with them.”