Tarps shelter two tents from the rain in a concealed wooded area around town.

Shelter struggles: Terrace seeks to address soaring homelessness

As the city's task force releases recommendations, local agencies scramble to meet growing need

Their voices are not often included in discussions about homelessness.

When asked what he thinks would be the most helpful service for people experiencing homelessness here, Sid said he’d choose better laundry facilities and showers.

“I don’t like being in dirty clothes,” he explained, adding that it would also be nice to have accessible showers.

“I don’t like using the public ones; I would just like to jump in there everyday,” he said.

Sid said his home for the past three years has been a tent set up on the outskirts of town, even while he starts his first week at a new job.

No one can seem to afford the rent in Terrace, he noted.

The Terrace and District Community Services Society recently completed a survey in tandem with their homelessness count asking people what they felt was the one most important service to help those struggling for housing.

The most popular response was more affordable housing, followed by shelter options, then a detox facility and laundry and shower facilities.

It’s data that the poverty-reduction agency who conducts the survey uses to try and target services.

But the final report was also clear that it doesn’t capture everyone who may be homeless here.

“We only address the absolute homeless, so if people are couch surfing or staying at a friend’s, we don’t count them in that,” explained Stacey Tyers of the TDCSS.

“It is by no means an exhaustive list and we don’t think it is, we know we’ve missed people.”

When the third-annual survey was conducted last April, canvassers recorded 101 people who said they were homeless, up 30 percent from last year.

Some of those who may have been missed include the working homeless who could have been at their jobs while the count was taking place as well as those living in overcrowded housing situations and people who have chosen to remain hidden so they won’t be forced out of their living spaces, the report noted.

Tyers mentioned it also did not accurately capture the number of youth who are homeless in Terrace because the places volunteers went were not ones frequented by young people.

Of those who chose to give surveyors their age, four reported they were under the age of 20.

“Shelters don’t take youth in town,” Tyers explained. “But there are [TDCSS] workers who patrol the streets at night to offer services for youth.”

She hopes that housing as well as a shelter for youth facing homelessness can be set up here.

Sid also would like to see more food services and lower rents to help those trying to make ends meet.

“Food sharing would be a big one, there’s not enough food out there for people,” he said.

Working on it

The city’s response to the increasing number of people who end up living on Terrace’s streets was to create a homelessness task force which began meeting at the start of the year.

It presented six preliminary recommendations ahead of its final report to city council on May 24, some of which have already come to fruition.

The first of the recommendations is to keep an up-to-date list of community resources and make sure everyone who needs to know has a copy of the list, said group spokesperson Danielle Lavoie at the meeting.

One of the first things the group noticed was how many resources there are here and that a lot of the people whom group members work with don’t know about these resources, she said.

A survival guide was put together with information on where to get meals and where to find public washrooms and groups are now working to distribute it around town.

The task force further recommended that a housing directory be put together as well as a homelessness intervention program.

The program will be modeled after a similar one in Prince George which aims to reduce homelessness by bringing together all involved agencies under one initiative.

Another recommendation was to utilize a new health care team being rolled out in Terrace to provide mental health and addictions support.

The integrated case management team will target those 19+ with substance use disorders and be available after hours when other agencies are closed.

The task force also noted that there is a need for additional public washrooms.

Facilities in George Little Park were opened during the day at the request of the group starting last month.

With the doors unlocked between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., city workers who manage the facilities reported that they “have had re-occurring vandalism which caused us to remove paper towels dispensers and install hand dryers.”

But they say the city has now committed to keeping the washrooms open “providing it does not cost us too much money in vandalism.”

The final recommendation was for a strategic long-term plan which includes laying the groundwork for a multi-organization housing project targeting the city’s most at risk homeless people.

However, it is clear to local agencies that there is still more need for services than those that are available.

Not there yet

Tyers, who is also on the task force, noted her agency operates subsidies to try to keep people housed, but says the budget never goes far enough.

There are also some limited housing options available through the TDCSS to house five people under room and board and others with disabilities, though there are a number of people on the waitlist.

“If they didn’t have [the housing options] they would definitely be at risk of homelessness,” Tyres said.

Ksan House Society also operates over 60 subsidized and individually-priced units in addition to eight apartments for those who are considered to be difficult to house.

And a recently approved bid for $250,000 from the city’s affordable housing fund could mean Ksan will build an additional 45 affordably-priced units, however the society still needs additional funding before it can move forward.

“For our population, we actually have a high number of income-geared housing units in the community,” Tyers remarked.

“But it doesn’t change the need for it, none of those ever sit empty.

“While vacancy rates here aren’t as crazy as they were, it’s still not readily available and the prices are still out of most people’s reach based on the high level of unemployment here and the type of employment available,” she added.

Prior to construction on Kitimat’s aluminum smelter, Tyers says her agency used to move clients to Kitimat where rents were more reasonable.

They still relocate families away from Terrace and Kitimat to some of the smaller surrounding places with a lower cost of living, “if we have to and if people are willing to,” she said.

But the agency is sometimes left with no other option but to give out tents to clients who are unable to stay housed.

“It’s as a last resort, if we can’t find somebody housing and if they want to camp,” she explained.

Those who do become homeless are able to use Ksan’s dry shelter and transition house, but the agency’s plan to rezone a downtown building for a ‘damp’ shelter for those who have been drinking was turned down by city council this April citing it wasn’t the right location.

The city is now waiting on the final report from the homelessness task force, which is expected to give them further direction this fall on how to help people who are struggling with homelessness in town.

With files from Margaret Speirs.