Burns Lake council is planning to invite several agencies to a meeting to discuss local housing issues in late March.
Councillor Susan Schienbein made the motion at last week’s council meeting, saying the village should invite all six local First Nations, Northern Health, local social service agencies, Burns Lake RCMP, local Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako directors, Southside Health and Wellness Centre Society, local senior housing groups, as well as community members to the meeting.
She also suggested inviting Cathryn Olmstead, executive director of the Smithers Community Services Association, so that she can share what steps her organization has taken to create affordable housing in the Smithers area.
Schienbein said she felt inspired after attending a recent affordable housing conference in the Lower Mainland.
“There were a couple of things that were epiphanies for me; the biggest one was that our community is far behind when it comes to housing,” she said. “I don’t think it’s through any fault of our own, it just has never been on our radar.”
Councillor Michael Riis-Christianson, who’s a part of the Lakes District economic diversification committee, said that creating an effective marketing strategy will not be enough to attract new residents and businesses if there’s a lack of housing in town.
“In the end, if we don’t have a place for them to live, they are not going to come,” he said.
The total number of households in Burns Lake and the Lakes District has remained relatively unchanged between 2011 and 2016. Meanwhile the number of seniors and near seniors (55 or older) living in Burns Lake and the Lakes District is expected to double by 2036.
In January 2016, the Village of Burns Lake initiated a 55 plus housing needs assessment survey. According to feedback received from the community, many local seniors are in a “precarious housing situation.”
When it comes to homelessness, although the provincial and federal governments are taking steps to address this growing issue in communities throughout the country, Burns Lake is not a part of these discussions. B.C. Housing is currently in discussion with several northern communities that are in immediate need of modular housing for the homeless, including Smithers and Terrace.
Local resident Darlene Patrick, who has been accepting homeless people in her own home and raising awareness of the community’s need for a homeless shelter for men, used the public comment period of last week’s council meeting to tell council that more needs to be done.
In May 2016, Burns Lake Mayor Chris Beach (who was then a councillor) was part of a meeting hosted by Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen in Burns Lake to discuss the need for a homeless shelter for men in Burns Lake. Since the meeting took place, no projects have moved forward.
Meanwhile Carrier Sekani Family Services has secured funding to build and operate a ‘safe house’ shelter in Burns Lake for First Nations women and children who are fleeing violence. The 4500 square feet shelter, which is expected to be completed later this year, will be able accommodate up to 23 occupants.