Poverty problems continue in Trail

Advocates for the poor seek solutions as shelter closes and food banks struggle.

The only shelter in Trail is closing next week and with increasing demand and decreasing supply at the food bank, the Silver City’s social safety net is starting to fray.

But local groups are determined to mend it.

The La Nina Extreme Weather Emergency Shelter shuts down at the end of the month and last week the United Church’s Food Bank served 74 patrons. The demand is growing but the church is already close to exhausting its food reserves.

To combat it, the Trail FAIR Centre Society and the United Church’s ad-hoc shelter committee have participated in a number of meetings, engaging residents, business and civic leaders in hopes of finding a solution to the Silver City’s social problems.

The committee led by United Church diaconal minister Keith Simmons met last week to look at options and discuss potential solutions.

“We talked about what we see as needs and gaps in the community, one thing being a year-round shelter,” said Simmons. “I mean there are people sleeping outside all year-round.”

B.C. Housing funded the cold-weather shelter that opened in February and was used by at least one person on all but two nights that the doors were open, said Simmons.

“It shows there is a need in the area (for a shelter) that people didn’t think the need existed,” said Simmons.

The committee is receiving input from outreach workers at Nelson shelters where support workers are employed and the Castlegar housing society has been invited to an upcoming meeting. Nelson has the only full-time shelter and both communities have versions of social and cooperative funding that Trail lacks.

Last month, the ad-hoc committee conducted a survey at the Trail food bank to determine the need for a year-round shelter in Trail.

“The responses to the survey was very well thought-out,” said Eleanor Harper, United Church food bank coordinator in a release. “We asked people at the food bank and at our downtown dinner and they told us about an entire (homeless) community that lives beneath the radar in our area.”

An overwhelming majority of the 80 questionnaires they received back said the respondents know of someone who is homeless.

“People who are homeless in Trail are currently sleeping in places like Gyro Park gazebo, under the bridge, in hallways of apartment buildings – some people are sleeping with friends on couches and other people are trading favours for accommodation – probably not the favours you’d want your kids or mother to have to trade,” said Simmons.

While beds are a first step, many homeless and poor need much more support.

“People need a place around the clock,” said Major Wilf Harbin of the Salvation Army and committee co-chair.

“The problem doesn’t end with a mat on the floor. They need more immediate help with showers, food and laundry, and long-term plans with transition housing and supportive living arrangements.”

And the strain on the poor isn’t getting any better. In light of Nelson’s Salvation Army food bank closure last week due to depleted stocks, Simmons says Trail’s United Church isn’t faring much better.

A large number of Trail residents depend on the weekly support of the food bank, and as food prices, cost of fuel, utilities and rents continue to climb, the impact will be devastating on minimum wage workers, welfare recipients, and those living on a fixed pension or disability, he said.

While the need is dire, people in Trail have historically responded well, providing food and shelter to many.

“But the people you see sleeping outside is probably just the tip of the iceberg,” said Simmons. “The five or 10 obviously sleeping outside are representative of maybe 100 people that are in precarious situations, and other people are doing what they can to help them.”

The United Church welcomes donations in time, talent or treasure and could really use some help just packing the groceries down the stairs, he added.

The next meeting is planned for Wednesday, April 6, at the Trail United Church. The committee encourages all to attend and help find solutions to poverty.