Although the provincial and federal governments are taking steps to address the growing issue of homelessness in communities throughout the country, Burns Lake is not seeing any of these benefits.
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. However, Burns Lake is not part of these discussions.
Burns Lake Mayor Chris Beach said that although homelessness is “always a concern,” this issue has not been discussed by council to date.
“Council may discuss further at its next strategic planning session,” he said last week.
Mayor Beach added that community members have not brought forward concerns about homelessness to council.
In May 2016, Beach 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 the Burns Lake area. Although the Elizabeth Fry Society runs a transition house in Burns Lake, there are no services specifically for homeless people in town.
During the meeting, which included community members and representatives from the RCMP and Lake Babine Nation, participants provided emotional statements, sharing their own experiences with homelessness – either by 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.”
Since the May 2016 meeting, however, no projects have moved forward. LBN member Darlene Patrick, who has been advocating for a homeless shelter for men in Burns Lake, said last week that she continues to accept homeless people in her own home.
The lack of support for men and how it impacts the community was one of the topics discussed during a sexual violence forum held in Burns Lake in October 2016. According to participants, the lack of support for local men has a direct impact on sexual violence against women.
Last week Cullen blamed the federal government, saying government has backed away from supporting social housing such as men’s shelters for a number of years.
“It would certainly help Burns Lake if government came up with something substantial, and real money,” said Cullen.
The federal government released its new housing strategy last week. It includes an investment of $2.2 billion in a renewed ‘homelessness partnering strategy,’ which would give communities the power to create local solutions to local housing needs. The aim of this plan is to cut chronic homelessness in Canada by 50 per cent within the next 10 years.
The B.C. government is also investing $291 million over two years to build 2000 modular supportive housing units across the province for people who are homeless. In addition, work is underway across the provincial government to develop a homelessness action plan and comprehensive housing strategy for B.C.