Homeless man lying on bench. File photo

Homeless man lying on bench. File photo

Hidden homelessness on the rise in district

Homelessness remains an issue for 100 Mile House

Homelessness in 100 Mile House is on the rise, but it tends to be a hidden issue.

Marnie Jensen, an outreach worker with Canadian Mental Health, said she has seen an increase in the number of people couch surfing or sleeping in bank kiosks over the past few years, due in part to rising rents and a lack of affordable housing in the South Cariboo.

“We have a lot of hidden homeless here, a lot of people couch-surfing, people making do, going place to place…,” she said, adding drugs are likely compounding the issue. “It just looks to me like drugs have become a lot more of an issue in the last few years. For us, we are always going to experience what’s happening in other places.

“The issues happening in the Lower Mainland and bigger cities are starting to become an issue here. It’s just not visible and is taking longer.”

Homelessness is defined as someone who does not have a fixed address or a place of their own where they pay rent and could expect to stay for at least 30 days. The District of 100 Mile House estimates there are up to 50 people aged 15- 25 who are homeless in the South Cariboo but notes the numbers fluctuate, as the homeless are more visible during the summer months.

Jensen said a lot of her clients, who tend to average in age between 20 and 40, are people who “maybe lived here a long time” ago and have come back, only to find out they don’t have the supports they need. She noted after the fires in 2017, a lot of people sold their rental places, while the rising rental costs have also displaced many people.

In the past, people could stay in a local motel for $600 but those costs are now up to $1,400. The issue was further compounded last year, during the COVID-19, when the 100 Mile campground wasn’t open, leaving many people without a place to go.

READ MORE: Lack of housing for at-risk and homeless in 100 Mile House

Although she can put people into temporary shelter spaces in motels, these are generally full year-round and may not always be a good fit for everyone, Jensen said, as they tend to be “high barrier,” and there are more people who need a place where they can stay even if they are dealing with addictions or transient lifestyles.

In those cases, Jensen has to call ahead to shelters in Kamloops or Williams Lake to see if they have space and then find a place for them to stay while they wait for the bus. For those who have nowhere to go in the summertime, CMHA hands out sleeping bags and tents.

“My concern is that because we don’t have our own shelter space we are using motel rooms sometimes and then we are putting the managers in the position of being shelter supervisors and that’s not OK,” Jensen said. “It can be a strain on them, and it can be a challenge for guests who are paying to stay there. It’s not a great situation.”

BC Housing has come up and looked at housing, “just nothing that works out yet,” Jensen said.

Sophie Carrigan Gray, BC Housing senior communications advisor, said providing shelter to those experiencing homelessness is a top priority for BC Housing, which has 10 spaces at a motel in 100 Mile House for vulnerable individuals, including those who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, are able to stay and self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t have plans to open additional spaces at this time, but we will be monitoring the need over the course of the winter,” she said in an email to the Free Press. In addition to these 10 shelter beds, she said BC Housing also recently purchased and revitalized 33 affordable rental homes at 440 Cedar Ave.

District Mayor Mitch Campsall did not respond to a request for an interview. However, the district said it does not have anyone assigned to the homeless issue because it does not have the capacity or expertise to deal with it.

An email from the district also noted intervention-type services are taxed in the South Cariboo. The District and Cariboo Regional District recently contributed $140,000 of COVID Recovery funds to assist with service demands but the district acknowledged this is just a drop in the bucket.

Jensen, who is also seeing an increase in the number of seniors who aren’t necessarily homeless but need support in finding new homes, agreed more needs to be done. Although the association runs the Cariboo Trails Terrace, a 25-unit B.C. subsidized housing complex, units are hard to come by.

“We need every level of housing here from basic assisted living to supportive shelter,” she said, adding homelessness is homelessness isn’t going away. “It’s happening everywhere, nobody wants it. It’s just a huge systemic issue. The drugs, the housing, the cost to everything … I don’t see much doing well right now,” she said.

“There’s a lot of people with two homes and so many with none. It’s a shame. We just want to keep sweeping it under the rug as if it doesn’t exist but it does.”


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