They are virtually invisible, but there are hundreds of people dealing with homelessness in Cranbrook.
Between February 2011 and June 2013, Cranbrook’s Homeless Outreach Program helped 171 people in varying degrees of homelessness.
A vital step in helping these people is a new homeless shelter, a $16 million proposal by the Salvation Army and the Cranbrook and District Community Foundation that is awaiting funding from BC Housing.
“Homelessness is increasing, as are the needs of the people we are dealing with,” said Erin Pan, Cranbrook Homeless Outreach Coordinator.
The program launched in November 2008 and has since helped 473 clients with issues of homelessness.
They generally fall into three categories: those at risk of being homeless, for example people who have received an eviction notice, or who know they won’t be able to pay the next month’s rent; the “hidden homeless”, meaning people without a fixed address who may live in tents or motor homes or couch surf; and the absolute homeless – people who have no residence at all and sleep on the street.
One of the problems facing people living in poverty is that social assistance does not cover rent; there is a shortage of low-income housing in Cranbrook.
For instance, a single person on social assistance receives a monthly cheque of $610. But the average apartment rental is $50 a month more than that. A single parent with a child receives $949 a month. Once rent comes out, they have $154 left for the month to pay for utilities and food.
The Salvation Army has long helped people in Cranbrook facing homelessness, operating men’s and women’s temporary shelters in the winter months. But that’s not nearly enough.
The proposal currently awaiting BC Housing funding is for a $16.6 million facility that would include 15 overnight beds for men and 15 for women; 16 second-floor units for stays up to two years; 16 third-floor units for stays longer than two years; and four family units with three bedrooms in each.
Besides housing, the facility will have a commercial kitchen and cafeteria, and space for amenities such as hair cuts, access to computers, counselling, and possibly a dentist’s office.
“It’s the stuff we take for granted. The shelter will look at things that have been neglected for so long,” said Neil Cook, chair of the Community Foundation. “There is a lot to be said for having your needs met in one place.”
The shelter will provide much more than a place to sleep, added Pan.
“It gives people who are using the facility the ability to deal with people who are invested in them.”
The shelter would be built on land donated by the Salvation Army in Slaterville. The City of Cranbrook is waiving development cost charges. The Regional District of East Kootenay has agreed to provide more than $100,000 to the cause. But it all hinges on B.C. government funding.
“I think our proposal is well positioned. We have been meeting with BC Housing for 3 1/2 years. It has grown from a simple shelter to include transitional housing and services,” said Cook.
Over the coming months, fundraising will begin in earnest for the shelter all over the East Kootenay, since the facility will serve the entire region. Cranbrook sits in the centre of about 20 per cent of the province where people do not have access to this kind of temporary housing.
“We have a new government, we have the package, this thing is ready to go. We are reaching out to the community to try and bring other partners on board, both in the social sector and First Nations. We are going to get our foot out there,” said Cook.
Fundraising will help cover set-up costs for the shelter, operation of the shelter, and top up the cost of building it.
This is a tough time of year to fundraise for homelessness, Cook went on.
“Fundraising gets tougher this time of the year. It’s easy to talk about homelessness when it’s 100 degrees outside. When it’s 40 degrees it’s a whole other conversation,” he said. “Support is seasonal; homelessness is not.”
Pan gave the statistic that each person living in a shelter costs about $40,000 a year. A homeless person who is not serviced costs about $200,000 a year.
If you calculate that the outreach program has had 473 clients, “then the shelter has pretty much paid for itself,” she said.
It’s important to note that homelessness is not something that just happens to other people, Cook pointed out.
“I don’t know a lot of homes in town that could go without three pay cheques and not be facing issues of homelessness.”
Anyone wishing to support the homeless shelter can call the Cranbrook and District Community Foundation at 250-426-1119 or mail a cheque to Box 242, Cranbrook, BC, V1C 4H8.