Nelson’s Stepping Stones shelter has been forced to allow longer stays because of a lack of supportive housing in the city, according to a local homelessness study.
The 12th annual Report Card on Homelessness, released Sept. 21, showed that 188 people accessed the shelter from April 2019 to March 2020. That’s down from 220 in the previous report, but only because individuals with complex care needs having been staying longer than the typical 30-day limit.
Rebecca Martin, community co-ordinator for Nelson Committee on Homelessness, said the people in need of shelter are now coming to Stepping Stones with multiple needs.
Whereas an individual may have previously just entered the shelter with a mental health issue, now that same person is also suffering from substance use challenges or physical issues, she said.
“Over the last few years or so it’s been kind of a gradual change with this increase in people coming in with more serious and multiple barriers,” said Martin.
“And so it’s just really hard to be able to find them stable housing, to try to move them from the shelter and find a place that will actually work for them. Because they can’t live independently and need a lot of support, and that’s just not available.”
The report, which encompasses the current cost of housing and includes data from local services such as the Nelson Street Outreach Team and Amy Beaulieu Transition House, calls for supportive housing in Nelson. That type of service provides stable shelter as well as on-site support.
Nelson has several affordable housing projects under construction, such as the 41-unit Hall Street Place or the seniors-focused Lakeside Place on Nelson Avenue. But the city lacks a supportive housing site that can meet the needs of people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
BC Housing will fund such a facility, but Martin said a lack of available land is keeping the project from going ahead.
“The shelter system is just an emergency response and what we ultimately need is permanent housing,” said Martin. “I think having the emergency response is always necessary but it shouldn’t be the main focus.”
Other findings for 2019 from the report include:Nelson’s vacancy rate rose from zero to 0.4 per cent. The rate has been near zero since 2014.
Average rents on studio, one bedroom and two bedroom units rose from last year. The highest increase was to two-bedroom units, which went up 10 per cent to $1,037 per month.
Home owners are building more unattached secondary units. The number in Nelson rose 24 to 533 in 2019. Of those, 30 are reported as short-term units.
A survey of advertised rentals in April and May 2020 found one and two-bedroom units are more expensive in Rural Nelson (defined by the report as the area between South Slocan and Nelson as well as Nelson to Balfour).
A one bedroom cost an average of $1,215 per month as opposed to $1,176 in the city, while rural rentals for two bedrooms cost an average of $1,501 monthly compared to $1,472 in Nelson.
The minimum wage rose to $14.60 an hour in June, but that falls well short of the suggested living hourly wage of $18.46. The report says that is the rate needed to supply basic needs for a family of two parents working 35 hours per week with two children ages four and seven.
The Nelson Street Outreach Team served 270 individuals in its third year, and has helped 589 people since it began operating in October 2016. Of the people the team connected with in 2019, 31 per cent are aged 20 to 30, while 28 per cent are 30-to-40 years old.
The report includes information on how COVID-19 has impacted homelessness as well as B.C.’s opioid crisis. Martin said she expects more detailed data on the pandemic to be available in next year’s report
To read the full report, see the online version of this story at nelsonstar.com.
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