“The solution to homelessness is a home” said Catherine Wiebe as she implored Hope’s mayor and council to vote in favour of supportive housing in Hope.
Hope’s healthcare workers see firsthand the health effects of a life lived on the streets or in precarious, substandard housing said Wiebe, director of clinical operations for the Fraser Canyon Hospital. She presented, together with family physician and site medical director for the hospital Dr. Joshua Greggain, at a Nov. 3 public hearing concerning BC Housing’s plans for 52 units of supportive housing along Old Hope Princeton Way.
Up to 85 per cent of people who are homeless suffer from a chronic health condition. This includes anything from physical issues such as pneumonia, skin ulcerations and frostbite in the winter to hunger and malnutrition, mental health issues and unintentional injuries, Greggain said, such as trying unsuccessfully to resuscitate someone who has been hit by a truck walking to a camp where they lived.
Having to discharge patients to substandard housing or no housing also has consequences for their health, Wiebe and Greggain stressed. Hope’s palliative care doctors have had to discharge people in their 60s and 70s “at the end of their life” into trailers, cabins and converted barns.
Greggain spoke about his friend and patient Barry, a familiar face in Hope whose housing struggles were perhaps less well-known. Barry experienced mental health and financial issues. He would live in a hotel room in the winter and, when prices of hotels rose in the summer, move into his car. “After many years of cycling through this process…tragically, four years ago, he took his own life,” Greggain said. “This is not a person who came from somewhere else, this is not a person who was disenfranchised by any of his own doing.”
“The perception that our healthcare needs are going to go up are based on the ideology that people are going to come from elsewhere to here,” Greggain said. Those who struggle with homelessness are already in the community, connected to mental health services and are frequent visitors to the local ER he said.
One woman has visited Fraser Health emergency rooms 73 times in the last year, 46 of those were to the Hope hospital. “Thankfully, one of our mental health clinicians took…her home, only to discover when she got there one of no doubt the contributing factors to those 73 visits was in fact, the place in which she had to live,” Wiebe said.
Having supportive housing, Greggain said, “may actually improve our healthcare services, because now the cycling through the emergency room back onto the street, the potential for overdose and addictions, may be stabilized by having supportive housing.” The research speaks “very strongly and very loudly,” Wiebe said, that housing improves people’s mental and physical health and addictions, pointing to research available at homelesshub.ca.
Other service providers, faith leaders support BC Housing’s plans
Hope Community Services, who administer the food bank and other programs for families, wrote that the project would allow people to stabilize their lives and alleviate pressures on the medical and healthcare systems.
The lack of supportive housing “can make our jobs more difficult and can lead to moral distress, as we struggle to adequately support those who do not have stable housing,” read a letter of support from seven organizations including Fraser Canyon Hospice Society, Hope Food Collective, Hope Inclusion Project and the University of the Fraser Valley’s school of social work.
Peter Bailey, director of the employment agency Free Rein Associates, wrote that supportive housing would “dramatically reduce homelessness in Hope and will help many residents to establish a quality of life that will reduce demands on social, criminal justice and health systems.”
The Mamele’awt Queesome/To’o Housing Society, who are building apartments and townhouses at 744 Old Hope Princeton Way, fully support the development. Their own property will be ready for tenants this spring, wrote CEO Janice Silver, yet the organization is fully aware “of the tremendous need for housing for singles, families and elders that do not fit the profile of tenants we are able to house.”
The Hope Ministerial Committee, a group of Hope’s faith leaders, addressed the fears around supportive housing such as increased numbers of homeless people, crime and mental health issues. “As individuals who work on the front lines of engagement in these areas, we believe it is important to note that all of those things are going to happen regardless of the status of the supportive housing project,” their letter read, and “they will continue to increase unless we take some action to begin to address them in a holistic manner.”
“Will the future look back at this time and define the residents of Hope as people who chose their own comfort and fears over choosing to help people who need it?,” the committee wrote. “Or will they see that we were able to make decisions which brought healing to our community in tangible ways?”
The Hope Ministerial Committee is comprised of Pastors Bruce McDonald and Sue Martin, Northwest Harvest Church; Reverend Patrick Hoppus, Hope Pentecostal Assembly; Reverend Dianne Astle and Jill Last, Hope United Church; Reverend Tim Morgan, Christ Church Anglican; Linda VanderMeulen, Hope Lutheran Church; Father Gordon Cook, Our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Church and Pastor Jeff Kuhn, Grace Baptist Church.
Two days of public hearings into two proposed bylaw amendments for 650 Old Hope Princeton Way wrapped up Nov. 4. Council will discuss and vote on the amendments in future council meetings.
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