Homelessness numbers have increased in Hope and Boston Bar, according to new numbers from data gathered from the homeless count.
Released on March 22, it showed that Hope’s homeless men, women and youth have increased from 22 in 2014 to 36 this year, representing a 64 per cent increase. Boston Bar has gone from five to six.
The figures count those without permanent housing who sleep outside, in shelters, and in vehicles. It also includes couch-surfers. On the day of the count, volunteers try to visit spots where homeless men and women frequent or spend the night.
The count is overseen by Ron van Wyk, of the Mennonite Central Committee, who says the process inevitably misses many people, either because they aren’t known to service providers, are missed by counters, or don’t want to participate.
The report delivered last Wednesday by van Wyk, suggests the cost of housing is among the largest barriers, with one-third of respondents citing affordability as the reason they weren’t housed. Another 12 per cent cited a lack of suitable housing, while nine per cent blamed addiction, and six per cent pointed to each of discrimination and family breakdown.
Hope and Area Transition Society’s homeless program coordinator Paul Keller further explained the reasons underlying the trends of the preliminary findings. Keller said that people who subsist on income assistance do not get enough money to afford an apartment.
Keller said that a person with a disability that disallows them from working receives about $900 a month. People with other issues such as addictions or an undiagnosed mental health challenges will get $610.
“The lack of finances from government — it perpetuates the problem,” said Keller.
“And then, of course, the lack of housing is a problem, and the rent is going up, and income assistance is not going up.”
If finances proved challenging, Keller added that the competition for rentals also prejudices people who have no job and people with visible challenges.
“They want to take the cream of the crop to rent their apartment,” said Keller. “Our challenged folks are often left out. So there’s a need there for government.”
Homelessness also disproportionately affects men. The data showed that 64.1 per cent of homeless people are men, while 35.2 per cent are women. The other 0.8 per cent are labelled as “trans” or “others.”
“Females, typically, have more access and more leniency and more trust when it comes to someone renting, someone opening their home,” said Keller. “Males, typically, lose out on that end.”
A culture of masculinity also affects the choices men make, according to Keller. He said that men have to fulfill expectations of being tough and self-sufficient.
“Males can tend to say they can rough it a little more at times typically than the average female. So they would maybe choose the bush,” said Keller, who added that women also have safety concerns that men might not have.
Age-wise, homelessness increases as a person grows older and Keller said that this is the result of Hope having an aging population and that increases the likelihood that homeless people fall into one of the higher age brackets.
Keller added that youth often do couch-surfing, hence they are not as evident on the streets.
“In your 20s, you can still consider them youth couch-surfers. Not totally entrenched yet,” said Keller. “And then in their 30s, if they’re still challenged and not getting their needs met, you can start to see it boil over.”
Keller elaborated that youth have a more resilient ability and can engage in trial-and-error in solving their problems, however, once a person gets entrenched into homelessness in his or her 30s, their ability to rebound from problems decreases.
“You start to wear down, and when you wear down, you start to become more visible. Mental health and addiction, and social challenges start to become more prevalent,” said Keller, adding that his clients often fall within the 30-59 age bracket.
Keller said teenagers slide into homelessness because society is becoming less connected and more individualistic. Keller said youth who sever their links with their family and community risk ending up homeless.
Keller added that a trend towards instant gratification also leads to people turning to drugs and alcohol to cope.
“See, we’re raised in a society, again, where we look for quick fixes,” said Keller. “Look at the advertising in the world, teaching people — take this, do that.”
Keller suggests that the solution to homelessness comes in asking, “What would I need if I was challenged in any of these areas?”
Keller said building community and moving from a preemptive, rather than a reactive, model to solve homelessness will help. Police, ambulances, emergency wards and mental health staff are examples of reaction to the problem, whereas planning and creating a support system are examples of a preemptive model.
“There’s a lot of money going into reacting to the problem, such as emergency shelters … as opposed to the funds going to homes,” said Keller.
He defines “homes” as a place where people can live semi-independently, meaning that people receive non-intrusive help with their mental issues, finances and addiction. It also includes community building to give people a sense of belonging and empowerment.
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A glimpse into homelessness in Boston Bar
For people living homeless in Boston Bar, things can end up worse than in Hope.
Boston Bar North Bend Enhancement Society director Nancy Carmichael, who handled the homeless count there, said that while rent is cheap and welfare dollars stretch further there, “there’s no resources in our town.”
Boston Bar does not have a grocery store, nor do they have a shelter like the Thunderbird Motel in Hope.
“You desperately need to have a vehicle if you live here,” said Carmichael. “It’s not a good place to be homeless.”
People who do not have a car have to depend on friends or a shuttle bus to come to Hope or go to Chilliwack.
Homelessness in Boston Bar takes the form of people living in tents, trailers and condemned buildings.
Carmichael said that people used to live in tents on Crown land near Tranquility Park.
“Some of them even took to building little shacks,” said Carmichael, adding that they couch-surfed or found other forms of accommodation during the colder months.
Others live in travel trailers, which Carmichael said would be unsuitable for winter dwelling.
Carmichael believes that economic challenges have led to homelessness in Boston Bar.
“Other than the railway, there’s no one big employer in town,” said Carmichael.
That challenge was exacerbated when a mill closed in the early 2000s.
Carmichael said some people were caught without the life skills or the means to leave Boston Bar to make a life elsewhere.
Carmichael suspects that the one-person increase in the homeless numbers for Boston Bar was due to a person moving to town.
She noted that transients often come to Boston Bar with the optimism that they can live better on their income assistance.