The need for a year-round shelter in Trail should be addressed, if a recent petition and community discussion is any indication.
Though last winter an adhoc-shelter committee successfully lobbied the government to fund the La Nina Extreme Weather Emergency Shelter, which only opened during extreme winter weather in February and March, some Greater Trail residents are pointing to the need for a year-round roof over their heads.
A petition signed by about 15 residents, started by housing advocate Elizabeth Sutherland, is asking the Trail Salvation Army to open up this East Trail shelter as soon as possible.
The notice did not surprise Trail United Church minister Keith Simmons, who is familiar with those who penned the petition and use the church’s food bank services on a regular basis because they’re left with choosing between shelter and food.
“Many of (the local homeless population) are precariously housed in that they might have to share a place with someone, they might be couch surfing or, in some cases, people are pretty vulnerable and other folks might use their place to party in and eventually they get evicted,” he said.
“And other people are vulnerable in that they’re going through a health crisis, in some cases a mental health crisis, and they’re not able to look after their place and they get evicted.”
Tracey Slubowski has been on disability for nine years because she is schizophrenic and is riddled with arthritis. She said her $450 government cheque is spread thin when it comes to balancing rent with the purchase of food, all while covering monthly bills.
“There has been times when I’ve gone oh well, I’ll just not eat and diet, too. In a way – it’s a forced diet – you go without food for a couple days and then you eat when you can,” she said.
Slubowski scored some bread from Tuesday’s trip to the United Church’s basement, where shoppers bagged goods like peanut butter, pasta, tuna, carrots and potatoes.
The food bank is desperately seeking food and financial donations at this time, with only $1,000 in the bank.
“It means eating or not eating because rents are so high,” she said. “ I’m looking for a place again, I’ve had to move and move and move because I can’t afford anything.”
Darren Heath is among the approximate 60 residents who use the service that runs from 10 a.m. until noon Tuesdays at the United Church, except for the second Tuesday of the month when the Anglican Church hands out food hampers.
He started to come to the food bank when he couldn’t find work and his social assistance cheque was just not enough to cover life’s expenses.
“We were getting low on food so it was either I come down and make use of the food bank or starve,” he said. “I don’t like having to come here but they’re here to help people so it makes it a little bit easier for me.”
The landscaper with a bobcat, flagging and fork lift ticket is now moving to Prince George because he’s given up on trying to land a job in Greater Trail, with a criminal record that has marked his employment record.
“That’s a barrier that gets me every time because as soon as you apply for a job, they have that right to run your name and do a criminal record check,” he said.
Often those who struggle to keep housing are also faced with barriers like drug addiction or mental illness, said Eleanor Harper, coordinator of the United Church’s food bank.
“This past winter there were people sleeping in fire escapes. There are people who have no place to be safe and people who are sharing with not very compatible roommates because of the desperate need,” she said. “There are young women who are being taken sexually advantage of because they have nowhere to sleep.
“There are some people who are listening, but it’s hugely important,” she said.
The Attainable Housing Committee of the Lower Columbia Community Development Team has a consultant completing a housing needs assessment and strategic plan in hopes of further investigating the situation in the region. Work will continue through the summer and fall with a goal to present a housing strategy in October.
In the meantime, the group that pushed for the emergency shelter agrees that Trail does need a year-round shelter but can only do what it can with volunteers and limited resources.
“We’re hoping that we’re able to raise the interest and awareness of the community enough that something comes out of this,” said Simmons.
In the long run, he’d like to see an organization similar to Nelson’s Stepping Stones For Success, which offers much more than a shelter, take on social needs in the community.