A man came into the Free Press office the other day.
He wanted to tell me his story, about how he’s lost a lot of jobs and has no permanent place to live, drifting between 100 Mile House and Williams Lake. He’s been run out of town, assaulted and has lost everything. He acknowledged he has various mental health issues, stemming from childhood trauma.
What he really wanted that day, he said, was something to eat but he couldn’t panhandle for cash.
“I don’t know what to do.”
Our local service providers – the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre – offered temporary aid, in terms of counselling and food vouchers. But it was just a stopgap measure for an increasingly growing issue in the South Cariboo.
Over the past few years, we have seen a significant jump in the region’s homeless population. The District of 100 Mile House last fall estimated the numbers were up around 50 – a result of years of mill closures, wildfires, and the recent pandemic, which has led to soaring house prices and ultimately rising rents and lack of affordable housing.
It’s a trend that’s happening across our province, especially as people sell their million-dollar homes at the Coast and buy up properties in rural areas.
Another woman who also dropped by worries she is at risk of homelessness after a house she lives in was recently sold. She and her neighbour – who has lived there for 20 years – don’t know where they will go next, especially in a town with a near-zero vacancy rate.
Something needs to be done, and soon. BC Housing recently purchased and revitalized 33 affordable rental homes at 440 Cedar Ave., but it’s a drop in the bucket.
And what happens to people who are unable to be housed because they have mental health issues or addictions? The District of 100 Mile House said it doesn’t even have anyone assigned to the homeless issue because it does “not have the capacity or expertise to deal with it.”
Perhaps it’s time to find someone who can.
Like it or not, we have a homeless and at-risk population in the South Cariboo.
Shelter is a basic human need to survive but too often these days, too many people are left out in the cold.