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Task force aiming to tackle housing crunch

Issues include homelessness, seniors’ housing
Susan Schienbein (left) says that a fledgling task force is meant to take on issues like homelessness and seniors’ housing in Burns Lake. (David Gordon Koch photo)

A fledgling task force is aiming to improve housing in Burns Lake — and the group will have their work cut out for them, according to village councillor Susan Schienbein.

The task force formed following a public meeting led by Schienbein at the College of New Caledonia on April 17, which brought together a dozen community members, including builders, community workers and village staff.

Most of those people expressed interest in joining a task force that would work on a long-standing set of housing issues in Burns lake.

Those issues include a pressing need for homeless shelters — something that was driven home this winter when someone in Burns Lake died of exposure, said Schienbein.

“That is concerning, whenever you have a fatality that could have been prevented through infrastructure,” she said in an April 25 interview with the Lakes District News.

Burns Lake RCMP and the B.C. Coroners Service declined to release the name of the individual or details about the case — a coroners’ investigation is ongoing — but Schienbein called the death preventable.

At the April 17 meeting, community workers from the Elizabeth Fry Society — which supports abused and marginalized women and their children — also raised the problem of women losing their children to the child welfare system after experiencing poverty and unstable housing.

Issues like these need to be addressed through strategic planning, said Schienbein, adding that affordable housing is also needed for attracting teachers to the community.

Burns Lake previously commissioned a study focussed on the housing needs of people aged 55 and older, which indicated that many seniors want to stay in the Burns Lake area — but that the local housing stock isn’t prepared to meeting the demands of an aging population, for both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.

And while many people would like to move south after retirement, uneven growth in real estate prices province-wide has meant that Burns Lake residents can’t afford to live in the more expensive southern latitudes after selling their homes in the North, said Schienbein.

“Your support network is here, and you have nowhere to go,” she said.

And although these challenges may seem daunting, she said that investments in housing by the provincial government could present an opportunity for Burns Lake if people involved in the new task force are ready to get serious.

“We’re looking for people to roll up their sleeves,” said Schienbein. “We can’t let this pass us by.”