A homeless mother of four is again calling for greater awareness of affordable housing problems facing northern B.C. after a five month homeless stint which has led her to seek a new path in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
During her nomadic adventures Anna Martin had been living with her family out of a van in campgrounds and emergency shelters while looking for a low income home or apartment – first in Hazelton, then Terrace where they camped out at the city-owned Ferry Island campground for a period, Prince Rupert, Prince George and now across the border into Alberta.
“I was in Prince George living in a hotel and Children Services said I can’t keep living in hotels and the transition house so they said I had to come to Grand Prairie to be with my mom because she is the only one who has supported me,” said Martin, adding that she was told her children would be taken from her if she came back to B.C.
“Children’s Services said that if I go back to B.C. without having a place to stay they will phone the cops and the cops would stop me and they would get a court order to take my kids away from me,” she said.
According to a statement from the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development it is not in the government’s power to prevent Martin’s return.
“The ministry and delegated aboriginal agencies have no authority to prevent someone from entering the province,” said the statement.
“Homelessness, in and of itself, may not necessarily be a determining factor in a child welfare assessment,” the ministry statement continued.
Martin’s children are all in school in Grande Prairie now but her housing woes have not gone away.
“Grande Prairie is the same as B.C., rents are sky high and there’s just nothing here. But there are a lot of jobs here which is the good thing about it. There’s lots that I can do, it’s just a matter of finding a place.”
Currently she is looking to find work in the service industry or as a groundskeeper.
She even said there is a homeless count underway in Grande Prairie, similar to the one that the City of Terrace commissioned this spring which detailed a swelling homeless population.
Of Nisga’a ancestry, Martin said she grew up in a foster home in Grande Prairie and moved to the Terrace area at age 13.
Her mom died when she was just five. “I lived here [Grande Prairie] until I was about 13 and then I went to B.C. after that.”
She said she was upset nobody could help her find a home in her traditional territory but says she plans to return at a time when it won’t affect her children’s education.
“She has been my emotional support and my financial support, so they said it would be better,” she said of the decision to say goodbye to British Columbia for now and move closer to her foster mother.
She said it has been difficult finding doctors in Grande Prairie who will take status claims.
“I’ve been living in my van with four kids and it was rough,” she said, adding that the Ferry Island campsites are the best because they are quiet compared to the loud partying that goes on in the Prince George camps.
“It’s just been too hard, stressful,” said Martin whose children are aged 10, seven, five and four.
She said she had been on waiting lists for subsidized housing all summer and nothing came up. She has friends in different locations around B.C. who kept an eye out for places but to no avail.
And she is continuing to speak out about the shortage of housing for people in tough situations such as her and her family.
“Some people have no idea about how bad it is for homeless people out there. Even though there are empty apartments nobody will take me because of my kids.”
According to Kirsten Kirkaldy from the Ksan Society, the housing situation has been very difficult for those earning minimum wage and also for single mothers.
“It’s difficult right now with the zero vacancy rate and the sky-rocketing rental prices,” she said.
“A lot of them [homeless and low or fixed income earners] are relocating because they can’t afford to live here.”
Ksan operates the Skeena-Kalum housing project on the Southside which has 50 units from one to four bedrooms offering subsidized rent through the provincial BC Housing agency
“The waiting list never seems to move because people get comfortable in there,” said Kirkaldy. One of the housing complexes was also recently struck by a fire and three units had to be vacated for repairs, she added.