Close to 20 years ago, a push to open Terrace’s first homeless shelter was successful after Daisy Wesley, a homeless woman, died of hypothermia on Greig Avenue in November 1992.
Although Terrace now has Ksan Place, an extreme weather shelter, and a transition house, Robert McVey, housing manager at Ksan Place says the homeless situation has not improved.
Places like the Ksan Emergency Shelter are over capacity, and with a lack of low income housing in Terrace, people have no choice but to stay at the shelter or on the streets for potentially many years.
Each night, Ksan takes in an average 24 people despite funding from BC Housing for only 16 beds, by letting people crash on the couch or floor. They also provide dinner for up to 40 people each night. Those staying in Ksan receive three meals per day, snacks and access to laundry and shower facilities.
But Ksan is for those who do not take issue with rules, Casey Eys, a homeless outreach coordinator with Terrace and District Community Services Society (TDCSS), explained.
“Lots of people have issues with rules so they choose the street,” said Eys.
Such rules include an 11 p.m. curfew, and no drugs or alcohol.
However during the winter months (October through March) when the situation becomes critical, an extreme weather emergency shelter opens up for 16 hours each day and unlike Ksan Place operates as a wet shelter, meaning alcohol is permitted so long there are no safety risks.
Part of the issue is that with big industrial projects making headlines, there’s been an influx of job seekers coming to Terrace in search of employment, McVey said.
“Word on the street is just come to Terrace and you’ll get a job,” McVey said.
But that’s not always the case. What McVey is finding is that when some workers arrive in Terrace they need to upgrade their skills, they need special tickets, or first aid, and then find themselves jobless and subsequently homeless shortly after arriving.
Ksan Place says they do what they can to help people staying at the shelter, such as paying for vocational certificates or training to upgrade skills necessary for employment.
However, the biggest hiccup according to Ksan and TDCSS in breaking the cycle of homelessness is the lack of low income housing in the city.
And since about 60 per cent of people staying at Ksan have been diagnosed with some type of mental illness, many of these people cannot live on their own. Ksan works to develop support networks and skills that can then be taken into two of Ksan’s long-term accommodation buildings: Ksan Residences and Mountain View Housing.
But for those not in transition into long-term housing, the hunt for permanent housing can be difficult.
Eys figures there are 300 under-housed individuals in Terrace.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation states the vacancy rate in Terrace for a one-bedroom apartment is three per cent, however Eys believes the rate is actually closer to zero, partially due to the large work projects.
“I have seen some places double in price,” Eys said, speaking to the high rent prices.
The City of Terrace’s Housing Action Plan, finalized February of this year, states the vacancy rate for multi-family homes and apartments has dropped from 20 per cent in 2005 to below three per cent where it currently sits.
This spike in rent prices is hitting people on fixed incomes the hardest. Social Assistance pays $510 per month, however the going rate for a single bedroom apartment is between $600-$1000. For a family needing more space, the average rent for a three bedroom house appears to be around $1500, according to a survey of rental postings.
But finding a vacant place is only part of the battle – finding one that is affordable, and not run down, is another factor.
“We’re getting landlords renting their broken down houses,” Eys said, noting he believes it’s a common problem in Terrace where some landlords take advantage of tenants who can’t afford to live anywhere else.
One man who is living with his sister and is on income assistance is Melvin Perry. He said that finding a place to stay is the hardest part, and finding one that isn’t run down is even harder.
And Clayton Cecil, who has gone through Ksan Place and was assisted in upgraded his vocational training, explained that some of these run down rental places are being referred to as “Little Harlem” by some.
Terrace City Council has recently addressed this issue with the implementation of new bylaws that can fine landlords who fail to keep their buildings in acceptable living conditions. Violations include, among others, poor ventilation, cold living premise, and insufficient tap temperature.
And although housing is an ongoing issue, one silver lining is that there is no indication that the homeless are going hungry.
“There’s no need for people in this town to go hungry,” Eys said.
TDCSS has commended the community of Terrace’s work to feed the poor, noting various church organizations and individual food donations.
TDCSS runs the Living Room Project, a Monday-Friday ‘soup kitchen’ that serves anywhere form 60-100 meals per day.
The food is donated each week from Save-On-Foods and Safeway, as well as from individuals.
Operating out of the Old Carpenter Hall, this project also offers a food share program, clothing donation program and vaccination and health program offered through Northern Health.
“I’ve been coming here for two years,” Linda Maitland said.
But in addition to a warm meal, Maitland comes for safety reasons and for the social element, she said. For her this is one of the few public places in town where she feels truly safe, and welcome to just to hang out.
The Living Room Project is just one of several free food services available in Terrace. The Ksan Housing Society serves three meals per day plus snacks for people staying at the aforementioned Ksan Emergency Shelter, but they also serve meals to those in need from the community. Local churches also run free food services during certain days of the week.
And Eys explained that someone who knew the connections could get at least one meal a day through these various volunteer run and donated food programs.
“I’ve been doing this [volunteering] for 14 months now and for a lot of people this is their only meal for the day,” added Perry, who also volunteers with the Living Room Project said.
However, during the winter months especially the lack of affordable low-income housing becomes the biggest challenge for these outreach workers.
“I’ve seen more people die on this job than I did as a logger,” Eys said.