Record-high gas prices, rising costs and freezing temperatures are taking a toll on South Cariboo residents this holiday season.
Chris Pettman, executive director of the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre (CFEC), said they’ve seen an increase in the number of people requesting help this Christmas.
“We are well ahead of the curve at this point in requests for hampers than we were in any other year,” Pettman said.
CFEC aims to help those in need through its Touch of Christmas campaign, which accepts cash donations, or donations of gift certificates from local businesses (including grocery and fuel vouchers). The donations go toward creating “Christmas Baskets,” filled with grocery cards, local merchant gift cards and gifts for families before Dec. 23 or when the centre closes. Hampers are also due to be distributed the week of Dec. 19.
Programs such as Share-A-Meal and Coats for All are also experiencing increased demand, he said.
Pettman said while they typically serve young people with families looking for help, CFEC is seeing more of a random mix these days, including an uptick in the number of seniors applying for assistance.
He noted in the past few days, three people who are “unhoused” also came in looking for help.
Marnie Jensen, Homeless Outreach and Extreme Weather Response worker for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), South Cariboo branch, said there is a growing need for temporary shelter spaces in the area.
It’s difficult to nail down the exact numbers of people who are unhoused, she said, because a high proportion of them may be staying with friends or living rough.
“People tend to couch surf,” she said, “or people are finding other, maybe unsafe or very temporary places to stay.”
BC Housing funds 10 temporary shelter spaces in 100 Mile House and can use local motel rooms if more room is needed. In an emailed statement to the Free Press, BC Housing said that “while we have not been contacted by stakeholders to open a permanent shelter in 100 Mile House, we have funding available to open additional shelters and are always open to working with our partners to secure housing for people experiencing homelessness.
“Interested stakeholders are encouraged to contact us directly to discuss how we can work together to serve the community.”
Motels have become popular in some situations at providing permanent spaces, especially if they have kitchenettes or provide access to cooking or food heating facilities. But Jensen said while CMHA can put people up temporarily or help them get to shelters in other towns, many people don’t want to leave their communities.
She noted there’s a demand for single-room occupancy (SRO) housing in the South Cariboo. SRO spaces can help those who are not well off financially or have good references. Many of those people are finding it harder than ever to find rentals in the area due to the lack of housing.
Even seniors who may not be struggling financially are having problems in accessing condos so they can downsize.
“I cannot think of a single demographic that is not experiencing struggles with our housing,” she said.
Anyone in need of temporary shelter can contact CMHA at 250-395-4883. Hours of operation are Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.