The Sunshine Coast Regional District’s board members received an update on the Homelessness Outreach Project (HOP) July 26, when co-ordinator Jim White pointed out that most of the organization’s clients are collectors of disability benefits.
“Eight out of 10 people were from the Coast. About 60 per cent male, 40 per cent female — and basically 90 per cent were on a disability pension,” he said.
Since November, White said he served 20 clients, totaling 70 stays in emergency or short-term housing.
The group’s activities have included emergency accommodation for those in need, service referrals and assistance with making trips to the food bank, appointments and hospital visits.
The HOP often receives referrals from probation, mental health, the hospital and welfare.
Its arsenal has included two hostels, one in Sechelt and the other in Gibsons. Recent overflows have necessitated the use of other spaces.
White reported that HOP had been successful in locating long-term accommodation for as many as 40 per cent of its clients, yet questions remain as to whether the group will find funding over the long-term.
“That’s where we got the realization that the interim needs were as important sometimes as long-term housing, especially around health problems,” he said.
The Town of Gibsons, District of Sechelt and SCRD have all provided grants in aid for HOP, a piece of the Sunshine Coast Community Services Society.
But money has been a continuing source of worry. Recent attempts at obtaining funding have been unsuccessful, even when “we’d met all goals and exceeded all expectations,” White said.
A campaign to raise dollars for the holiday season netted $2,000 in donations to help ensure the availability of emergency shelter and, according to White, the community has embraced the group’s work.
“We’re well known up and down the Coast. If a person’s experiencing homelessness on the Coast now, they know where to come,” he said. “We meet them. Usually it’s for no more than one or two nights.”
However, Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons says there is a “desperate” need for subsidized housing in the region.
“My office has been dealing with a disturbing number of calls from people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless,” Simons said when asked about the high representation of disability collectors among those using HOP’s services.
Ministry of Social Development statistics showed than in June, 62 per cent of BC Employment and Assistance program cases involved a person receiving disability assistance.
Singles with no dependents receive $906 in disability assistance, including $375 for shelter — the fourth highest in Canada, according to the ministry. Tax benefits, crisis grants and a variety of supplementary benefits are also available.
“Many with disabilities are at highest risk for homelessness, but more and more we are seeing seniors and families struggling,” Simons said. “Both levels of government have to realize that either we address the issue, or deal with the more expensive consequences later.”