British Columbia

Homelessness prevalent across B.C., not just Vancouver

Homelessness in Vancouver may have been spotlighted this week due to the city's annual homeless count, but the issue extends beyond Vancouver's border.

Nanaimo and Nelson are just some of the other areas that also struggle with homelessness

Homelessness is prevalent across many pars of B.C., not just Vancouver. (Pabak Sarkar, Flickr cc)

Homelessness in Vancouver may have been spotlighted this week due to the city's annual homeless count, but the issue extends beyond Vancouver's borders.

Lorraine Copas with the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. says an overall lack of affordable housing and low income assistance rates mean cities on Vancouver Island and in the province's Interior also struggle with homelessness.

"Even among families, we found more than a hundred families who were living on the streets or having to camp over the summer so that they could afford housing in the winter," Copas told B.C. Almanac's Gloria Macarenko, referring to a 2014 study on family homelessness that was conducted in five B.C. cities.

"So you see it all through B.C."

Treading water in Nanaimo

John Horn, social planner with the City of Nanaimo, says homelessness has been an issue for years, but the city has seen a recent increase in homeless individuals, many of whom are suffering from acute mental health issues.   

"That makes it tougher, of course, to provide services because that means much more intensive supports are required for those individuals," he said.

Horn says there are roughly 200 to 300 homeless people in Nanaimo. The city takes a housing-first approach, providing subsidies and supports to them when they find rental apartments.

"I don't think we're losing the battle (against homelessness) — facilities are going up, buildings are being built, services are being provided — but I'd say we're not completely winning the battle, either, because our emergency shelters are full every night," Horn said.

Chronic and hidden homelessness in Nelson

Ann Harvey, community coordinator with the Nelson Committee on Homelessness, estimates there are roughly 50 "absolute homeless" people who can't find or maintain housing.

"They may be caught in a cycle of using the shelter for a time, but there are time limits there, and then (they) go back to the woods," she said.

"We've found families sleeping in cars, sometimes camped out in a stairwell occasionally, so they really have no stable housing situation."

Harvey says there is also a population of hidden homeless — seniors who have become increasingly isolated, or youth who couch surf in order to avoid rough situations at home.

While there is a 17-bed shelter and an emergency transition home in the city, high living costs make it incredibly hard for people to find housing, said Harvey.

"We consistently have the highest rent in the West Kootenay," she said. "Really, over 20 per cent or more of Nelson's households are relatively poor."

To hear the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Homelessness an issue across B.C.


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