Last week I participated in a meeting with Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam, Burns Lake councillor Chris Beach, RCMP members and community members.
They were all gathered to discuss the need of a homeless shelter for men in Burns Lake.
Lake Babine Nation (LBN) member Darlene Patrick was the person who got everyone involved. And this certainly wasn’t an easy task for her, as she had been trying to organize this meeting for three years.
Cullen took the lead during the meeting. He was very respectful and interested in hearing what everybody had to say. He made suggestions, but was careful not to impose his ideas, understanding that the initiative should come from the community.
Cullen asked participants to share why they thought Burns Lake needs a homeless shelter for men. And, surprisingly to me, people had a lot to say.
Participants shared their stories and provided emotional statements. Some even broke to tears while sharing their experiences with homelessness – either helping people in need or being homeless themselves. After also hearing RCMP officers say they know of people who sometimes sleep in the bush, and Burns Lake councillor Chris Beach, who grew up in Burns Lake, say he knows of local people who don’t have a home, I realized how important this initiative really is.
Although Burns Lake already has a homeless shelter run by the Elizabeth Fry Society, the shelter is only for women. Some participants shared how frustrated they feel because they often come across men that need a shelter, but Burns Lake has nothing to offer them.
Patrick has actually been hosting people in her own home for several years. She said she hosts about 10 people a year and that they are allowed to stay for as long as they want (and some people think having their own family for the weekend is hard).
Patrick said she sometimes runs out of food because she has to feed other people.
After everyone shared their experiences, there was a consensus amongst participants that they needed to gather more support, including the six local First Nations groups in the area.
Chief Adam took it upon himself to talk to the other five local chiefs to ensure that they are on board, and Cullen said he would speak with John Rustad, MLA for Nechako Lakes, to ensure the provincial government is involved.
However, participants did not choose a group of people nor created a committee that would work together to create goals, timelines, and would be responsible for ensuring this initiative moves forward. There’s certainly a lot of work involved in creating a homeless shelter, including going after grants, gathering supporters, finding a location, staff (and I’m sure I missed about 50 items in that list).
From what I’ve seen in Burns Lake, things tend to get done much faster when there’s a committee responsible for steering things in the right direction. That’s what we’ve seen with the Colleymount Road users group, which successfully brought the Colleymount Road issues to the attention of the provincial government.
Of course these are just the initial stages of getting a homeless shelter for men in Burns Lake, and meetings are certainly important, but I left the meeting without knowing who was actually taking the lead.
From what I heard during the meeting, the community would like to have a homeless shelter for men in Burns Lake as soon as possible. So someone needs to ensure that the next steps are being taken.