Nearly 200 women and children seeking shelter from domestic violence were turned away from help due to a lack of beds at Nelson’s Aimee Beaulieu Emergency Transition House.
The 11th annual Report Card on Homeless, which was released Monday, revealed 139 women and 30 children could not access services at the transition house from 2018 through June 2019.
The house, which has operated since May 1995, has space for eight women and children. Rona Park, executive director of Nelson Community Services, says that is no longer sufficient.
“The fact that we are low barrier and that there’s nowhere for people to go after their 30-day stay means we get backed up in the service,” said Park. “It is shocking that that many are turned away.”
A total of 74 women and 33 children were housed by the service in 2018-19. Just 16 people found permanent residence after their stays ended, while 24 settled for temporary housing.
Park said the transition house desperately needs second stage options. She added an expression of interest has been made to BC Housing for units as part of its $734-million women’s transition housing fund, which will build and operate 1,500 new units province-wide through 2028.
Park said Nelson needs 12 additional beds, or four apartment units, that could be accessed for single women or women with children for two-year stays.
“The intent of second stage actually isn’t to solve a housing crisis. It’s really for those women who are struggling to get their lives back together again after fleeing abuse.”
The report card also expresses a need in Nelson for supportive housing, which are buildings staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week that offer meals, medical support and links to services.
Ann Harvey, the report card’s author and the community co-ordinator for the Nelson Committee on Homelessness, said BC Housing will pay for the land, construction and staffing needed for a supportive housing building. The challenge, however, is finding land to build what would at minimum be a 40-unit complex.
Harvey said preliminary discussions have already been had with the city about potential locations for the building.
“People at the margins need housing that can help them move from homelessness to home, that can provide the supports for them to stabilize their health and stabilize their lives and over time become contributing members to the community again,” said Harvey.
Similar housing, Harvey said, already exists in small communities elsewhere in B.C. such as Gibsons and Smithers.
“It’s not rocket science and the track records from other communities is that it really works. There’s nothing else that gives higher success rates than this kind of program.”
Other notable statistics from the report include:
• Nelson is now in its fifth-straight year of having a zero per cent vacancy rate.
• Advertised monthly rental rates continue to climb. The steepest increase over last year was an 11 per cent rise in costs for studio and three-bedroom units, which average $880 and $1,971 respectively. One-bedrooms average $1,068, while two-bedrooms cost $1,452. Those rates were surveyed in April and May.
“It’s put a lot of pressure on people of low or modest incomes even,” said Harvey. “For those who are the most marginalized or homeless, it’s almost impossible to find a place.”
• The number of private market rental units has barely changed in three years. Last year there were 1,229 units available for rent, slightly less than 1,238 in 2017 and only one more than what was available in 2016.
• There are currently 508 people on waitlists for a total of 309 housing units offered by Nelson CARES, Nelson Community Services, the Canadian Mental Health Association, SHARE Housing Initiative Society and the Nelson Kiwanis Project.
• The Nelson Street Outreach team served 214 people in its second year of operations. The team cited housing support as its clientele’s most frequent request.
• Referrals, interventions and advocacy by the street outreach team have led to a 44.8 per cent drop since October 2015 in emergency department visits at Kootenay Lake Hospital by people with mental health and substance use issues who visited four or more times per year.
• Stepping Stones shelter had 220 individuals use a total of 460 bed stays in 2018. Both numbers are down slightly from 2017.
• A new point-in-time count will happen in 2020. The last count in 2018 found 725 people in Nelson who were either observed, screened or then surveyed as homeless.