Nelson is currently failing to adequately support its homeless community, which includes a disturbing number of youth, seniors and people suffering from mental illness, according to the 6th annual Report Card on Homelessness released yesterday.
“Here in Nelson, as in anywhere else across Canada, homelessness is inextricably tied to poverty, lack of affordable housing and not enough resources, such as mental health services and other supports for those in need,” the report states in its introduction.
Our Daily Bread hosted a day-long forum for the community to share the findings of the report, which was prepared by the Nelson Committee on Homelessness (NCOH). The trends the report identified and the statistics provided paint a bleak picture of Nelson’s current situation, and places the blame on systemic and societal barriers rather than the vulnerable individuals involved.
“Nelson’s own youth and seniors are among the most hidden homeless in our community,” stated Phyllis Nash, co-chair of NCOH.
From 2011 to 2013, the number of food bank visits in Nelson jumped from 18,306 to 20,596. Meals served at Our Daily Bread skyrocketed from 11,700 to 14,534. One in five people supported by the local food bank were children. Meanwhile, the average length of stay at the shelter has risen from 9.5 to 16 days.
According to the report, the rise in these numbers is due to the shrinking number of rental vacancies, the rising cost of rent and inadequate support, financial and otherwise, for those who need it.
The current amount granted to those living on income assistance is $610, which is intended to cover rent, utilities and food. In Nelson, where the average rent for a one-bedroom place is higher than that, this situation disqualifies those struggling financially from joining the community.
The accepted measure of housing affordability is that it doesn’t exceed 30 per cent of a household’s income. However, 1 in 3 Nelson households pay more than that for shelter. And though only 20.8 per cent of owner households do, 46.8 per cent of renter households are forced to.
Currently, 20 per cent of Nelson households live below the Low Income Measure Threshold. And while a healthy rental vacancy rate is 3 per cent, Nelson’s was a mere 1.9 per cent for 2013.
The report states there is currently no local youth emergency shelter or safe home program, and that youth can find themselves in situations where they are exploited. “It’s a reality that many are unaware of,” says the report.
In the portion of the report devoted to addressing youth homelessness, NCOH interviewed 290 youth aged 13-19, primarily at L.V. Rogers Secondary.
They found that 1 in 10 youth responded that they had couch-surfed once or twice in the past 12 months because they felt they could not go home or it was not a safe place to stay.
One in four responded that they’d allowed a friend to stay in the past year, once or twice. Seven per cent responded that friends stayed longer than seven days, often not consistently.
“Cicada Place has 38 Nelson youth on our waiting list already,” said Joyce Dahms, youth services manager. “With only 10 units and little turnover, many of them will not be able to access this housing.”
“Some of our hidden homeless can sleep rough (outside), while others have to make the choice between maintaining their housing or putting food on the table,” said Nash. “The lack of adequate income, the lack of affordable housing and mental health issues are major concerns around homelessness in Nelson.”
And though there’s much work left to do, Nash said there’s also room for gratitude.
“We see how the work everyone is doing makes a real difference to people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness in our community,” said Nash.
The forum was crowded with interested residents and a few city councillors on June 17.
Special guest speaker Brad Crewson, from Victoria’s Streets to Homes housing project, gave a lecture.
Participants were encouraged to contact their MPs, MLAs and municipal authorities to express their outrage at the current failings of the system.
The report is available for download at nelsoncares.ca.
For a physical copy you can call 250-352-6011, extension 19.