Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen was in Burns Lake last week to meet with community leaders and members, as well as the RCMP, to discuss the creation of a homeless shelter for men in Burns Lake.
Although Burns Lake already has a homeless shelter run by the Elizabeth Fry Society, the shelter is only for women.
“Why can’t we have a shelter for men?” questioned Lake Babine Nation (LBN) member Darlene Patrick during the meeting.
Patrick had been trying to organize a meeting to discuss the creation of the new shelter for about three years. The meeting finally took place at the Margaret Patrick Memorial Hall on May 26, 2016.
In addition to advocating for a new shelter, Patrick has been accepting homeless people in her own home. She said she hosts about 10 people a year, who stay for as long as they need.
“Sometimes I run out of food because I have to feed other people,” she said.
Ideally, Patrick thinks Burns Lake should have a five-bedroom shelter for men.
One RCMP officer attending the meeting said two Southside men have been sleeping in the woods when they come to Burns Lake.
“We definitely need something,” said the RCMP officer.
Burns Lake councillor Chris Beach, who was representing the Village of Burns Lake, agreed that there is a need to have a homeless shelter for men in town.
Some participants provided emotional statements, sharing their own experiences with homelessness – either helping people in need or being homeless themselves at some point in their lives. Some participants broke down in tears while sharing their story.
“I am one of the people you guys are talking about,” said one participant. “I have no home; I have no place to go.”
Another participant shared how she had been homeless a few years ago, stressing how important it is to have a homeless shelter for men in town.
Deanna Brown Nolan, coordinator of LBN’s Comprehensive Community Plan, said there’s a gap for men to access services in Burns Lake.
“There’s nothing specific for men,” she said.
Nolan added that homelessness is a multifaceted issue, and that the six local First Nations should to come together to help address this issue.
Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam took it upon himself to talk to the other five local chiefs to ensure that they are on board.
“I will speak with them individually to make sure that they are involved,” said Chief Adam.
Cullen, who had already spoken with the people who run a homeless shelter for men in Smithers, said they were willing to come to Burns Lake to share their knowledge.
“Bringing someone in who’s already done the work is better than reinventing the wheel,” said Cullen.
In the end, participants agreed that they needed to gather more support, including from churches in town, the village and the six local First Nations groups. In addition, Cullen said he would invite John Rustad, MLA for Nechako Lakes, to be involved in future discussions.
Cullen added that he would also like to host a larger community meeting in a near future to discuss community housing in Burns Lake.