British Columbia

'It's really difficult': Quesnel shelter operating far beyond capacity

With temperatures dropping to -11 C during at the start of the week, some nights there are 40 people staying at the shelter, which only has funding for 15.

The shelter has 40 people some nights, when it's only funded for 15

The Seasons House Shelter and Support Society in Quesnel is so packed with people each night, that many have to sleep on plastic chairs, said executive director Melanie Macdonald. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

For years now, the Seasons House Shelter and Support Society in Quesnel has been seeing an increase in the number of people using their services, but this year, it is operating far beyond capacity.

With temperatures dropping to -11 C at the start of the week, some nights there are 40 people staying at the shelter, which only has funding for 15.

"Things are very busy right now. We experienced higher numbers than we've ever experienced recently," said Melanie Macdonald, executive director of the shelter.

"It's really difficult."

The shelter is experiencing the highest numbers it's ever had, said Macdonald, pictured. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

People are sleeping in the shelter's overflow area on plastic chairs, space is tight, and food resources are limited, she added.

"Being homeless already puts you in a state of crisis and it's a really difficult situation," Macdonald told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

"When you're not getting your proper rest or your proper nutrition or any of those basic needs met, absolutely, people's emotional states are not well, they're not doing well mentally or physically."

Emergency funding

In the past, the shelter has relied on subsidies from B.C. Housing to help people find temporary shelters, such as hotels, in the winter. Last year, it received $58,000 from the provincial agency.

On Thursday morning, B.C. Housing announced it is opening extreme weather spaces and temporary shelters across the province, including 10 spaces at the Seasons House Shelter in Quesnel, which will be available for use until the end of March.

In an email statement to CBC, B.C. Housing said it does not have an estimate of how many people are homeless in Quesnel, but in addition to the funding its is giving the shelter, it will also provide 20 rent supplements in Quesnel to help people with rent in the private market.

However, with as many as 40 people staying at the shelter some nights, and numbers continuing to increase, things could still be very tight.

Macdonald said she's working with people staying at the shelter to find friends and family they can possibly stay with.

Long-term plans

The city is working with B.C. Housing to find long-term solutions to homelessness and has several housing projects in the works, including building 32 supportive homes with 24-hours supportive services that are expected to open next summer.

"Shelters are not a long-term solution and our goal is to get people into appropriate housing as soon as possible," said B.C. Housing in an email statement.  

Bob Simpson, mayor of the city of 12,000, said the city needs to better understand why there are so many homeless people in such a small community, and whether people are travelling to Quesnel because of the services it offers.

"[It's] one thing to respond with a shelter, either longer term or an emergency shelter, it's another to really understand the nature of the homelessness that we're experiencing," Simpson said.

"So we are working to understand the issue better so that we can devise the right solutions for those issues."

City council is meeting with B.C. Housing in November to discuss some of those strategies, he added.

Macdonald is hopeful that with more supportive housing coming, and a provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy in place, things will change.

Seasons House in Quesnel is built to accommodate 15 people, but it has already had as many as 40 seeking shelter as temperatures drop. Executive director Melanie MacDonald speaks with Carolina de Ryk. 7:00

With files from Daybreak North

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