Opinion Column

More funding needed to help homeless in Fraser Valley

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver

(Zinkevych/Getty Images)

(Zinkevych/Getty Images)

As I sit on my couch and write this column, there’s a man with a canvas shopping cart digging through my recycling bin and pulling out pop cans. This routine has become a regular Wednesday fixture, a visible sign that people in our community are struggling to get by.

The number of homeless people in the Fraser Valley is growing faster than in Vancouver. Chilliwack itself saw the number triple: from 73 people to 221 since the last homeless count in 2014.

Last week, homeless campers at a local farm were served with a trespass notice and cleared out by police due to concerns over their safety and increased pollution in the area but with more than 200 homeless people in the city and just 46 shelter beds, where are they to go?

There are an estimated 18 homeless camps in Chilliwack and without a comprehensive homelessness strategy to get these people a stable form of housing; we will just be pushing them from camp to camp. That same Evans road camp that was just evacuated, a 51-year-old woman died there when a heavy snowfall made her tent collapse on her. With another cold, snow-filled winter forecasted, people living outdoors in makeshift structures are at risk.

Housing, of course, is a provincial responsibility and thus far, the province has allocated a lot of the funding for shelter beds and resources in Downtown Vancouver and it makes sense because at last count there were 2,138 homeless in the City of Vancouver itself, but the homeless rate is growing much faster in outlying areas. It seems manageable to house 200 people, 2,000? Maybe not so much.

The time to look at resources is now when we see the wave coming, not wait until the flood hits us and the situation is completely out of control. Resources are needed not just to temporarily shelter the homeless, but to guide those who are drug addicted through recovery, help those struggling with mental illness and teach job skills to those who might not have any.

If BC Housing wants to save themselves money and work in the long term, they should invest in communities like Chilliwack now. Putting those long-term programs in place will help the city grow sustainably while at the same time taking care of its most vulnerable. If we were able to go back and do things differently in Vancouver, would we have? Now’s our chance to be proactive and get ahead of the problem in the Fraser Valley.