This statement is often made about homeless people in Nelson: they wouldn’t be here if more social services were being offered in other West Kootenay cities.
There are no numbers to show whether or not that’s true. But when Boundary Women’s Coalition executive director Dara Sutton spoke to a Nelson audience about the work she did in Medicine Hat, Alta., that led to the city declaring an end to its homelessness crisis, she refuted the claim.
“Folks don’t really understand all the pieces and their beliefs are based on myths,” Sutton said. “Just because you have services doesn’t mean people seek those services out and, looking forward, wouldn’t we want people to access services and be well?”
Still, the belief persists, in part because there are few options outside the city.
In an effort to provide a clearer picture of the services offered outside Nelson, the Star surveyed organizations throughout the West Kootenay to find out exactly how many shelters and food banks and/or soup kitchens exist.
Social services extend beyond shelter and food — an organization like ANKORS for example would be defined as a social service — but for the purposes of this survey we stuck to those two categories.
Nelson (2016 population: 10,572)
The city has two shelters, Stepping Stones and the Aimee Beaulieu Transition House for women and children. Stepping Stones currently has 17 beds, which can each be occupied for up to 30 days. The shelter had 215 bed stays in 2016, and turned away 97 people the same year for lack of space.
The Aimee Beaulieu Transition House is for women and children escaping domestic violence. It features eight beds that can be used for up to 30 days.
Last year the house served just 62 clients despite taking 330 calls for service. An organizer said attributed the low number of clients served to renovations and an on-site flood that closed the site for several months.
There are five food banks/soup kitchens in Nelson that offer access at varying times throughout the week: the Salvation Army, the Nelson Food Cupboard, Our Daily Bread, St. Saviour’s Angelican Pro Cathedral and the Nelson and District Women’s Centre.
The women’s centre is restricted to self-identified women and children.
Castlegar (pop: 8,039)
The West Kootenay’s second most populous city has just one food bank and shelter that operate under the same roof.
The Community Harvest Food Bank, which also has a soup kitchen, offers just three beds. Only one of those beds is currently in use right now because the non-profit organization doesn’t have the funding to keep staff on-site overnight. They estimated 25 bed stays were used in 2016, with five people turned away.
Trail (pop: 7,709)
Only one full-time shelter exists in Trail. The WINS Transition House has 10 beds that can be used for women and children, and also offers food to residents as well. During its last fiscal year beginning April 2016, the transition house had 864 bed stays. It does not keep statistics for people turned away.
Men in Trail have no local options during the summer months. La Nina Emergency Shelter is open nightly November to March. It has six beds on a first come, first serve basis. No one was turned away last season, while 150 bed stays were counted.
Trail has three options for people in need of food. The Trail United Church operates a food bank, the local Salvation Army has a food bank and soup kitchen, and St. Andrew’s Anglican Church offers a soup kitchen as well.
Grand Forks (pop: 4,049)
The status of services offered in Grand Forks is in part unclear.
A food bank and soup kitchen operated by Whispers of Hope Benevolence Association as well as the Boundary Emergency Transitional Housing extreme cold weather shelter were ordered in August to vacate their shared property within six months by city council.
Grand Forks is also home to the Boundary Women’s Transition House, which features six beds, had 1,197 bed stays in 2016 and turned away 50 people last year.
Other food banks include the Boundary Community Food Bank and Blessings Boutique and More.
Kaslo, Rossland, Fruitvale, Slocan, Salmo, Nakusp, Greenwood
No shelters exist in these communities, but all except for Greenwood features its own food bank. Kaslo, Salmo and Nakusp each offer safe homes programs that help women and children find short-term, free accommodation.
A food bank in Greenwood was shut down June when staff couldn’t meet local demand.