Re: Tribune article, “Williams Lake asked to accommodate homeless camp,” Thursday Nov 26, 2020
We would like to suggest the following corrections to the article in order to properly convey our requests to City Council. The small group working on this initiative have named it the Emergency Housing Response Team.
The Emergency Housing Response Team is asking for help from the City of Williams Lake in identifying a site that could operate as a sanctioned camping space for individuals who are homeless and currently living outside. The advocates have put forward a selection of sites for council to review.
A count from the Salvation Army food truck staff, on the night of Nov. 24, 2020, identified 13 individuals who stated that they planned to sleep outside that night. In early November, the salvation army food truck staff had 56 individuals utilize their homeless services which included food, sleeping bags and cold weather wares. This population of homeless individuals are unable to access the current local shelter due to a variety of reasons.
Judy Ventry pointed to Quesnel’s Seasons House shelter as a good model, which works with an Emergency Weather Response framework from BC Housing, but is not offered in the Interior Health Authority.
The Emergency Weather Response defines cold weather as below -5C, where the Cariboo Friendship Society states that they do not turn anyone away at -20C. Seasons House has an open door policy and an active harm reduction policy that focuses on working with people who are struggling with substance use issues.
People living homeless require a number of supports in conjunction with living in order to maintain successful tenancies. Williams Lake is currently experiencing a housing crisis and an all time low in vacancy rates which makes it difficult to find housing for this demographic in the open rental market.
In addition, Councilor Scott Nelson took to his Facebook page to solicit thoughts from his Facebook community. He asked if members on his page would support a ‘tent city.’ He states that it would house the “less vulnerable who are not allowed at the Salvation Army and other service providers. They are classified as high risk.”
This idea was not supported in the presentation to council, but was a personal spin off of the presentation. The demographic in question is not less vulnerable but more vulnerable than homeless individuals who can access the current shelter. Individuals are not a high risk to the community but are high risk to contract COVID-19 due to living outside and being immuno-compromised.
He closes his post with an unsupportive statement regarding how a similar effort in Smithers was unsuccessful, however with the right supports, such a project could create a place for people to receive service connection.
The City is currently working with non-profits to apply for grant money which has become available due to the pandemic and will hopefully see housing with supports for life skills in place. This will see housing built in the long-term, however, people sleeping outside need a solution for this winter.
Leah Martin, Laurel White, Wayne Lucier, Judy Ventry, Deana Conde Garza