Volunteer-run shelter not sustainable
Run solely by volunteers, Merritt’s community response shelter is not sustainable, representatives from the Housing Task Group told council on June 12.
Instead, Merritt needs a long-term, staff-run facility that includes supportive housing, transitional housing and emergency beds, they said.
“[The Community Response Emergency Winter (CREW) Shelter] has some good points and some bad points,” said RCMP Cst. Tracy Dunsmore. “In the end, there was a lot of burn out and we are not sure what we are going to do next year.”
The shelter, located downtown on Coutlee Avenue, was open nightly from December 2011 through March 2012 and accommodated as many as 14 guests a night.
Over the four month period, just over 35 volunteers put in a total of 3,380.5 volunteer hours.
In the past, B.C. Housing funded an extreme weather shelter operated by ASK Wellness at Crossroads Community Church. The shelter was only open on Mondays and on nights when temperatures dropped below -8 C and, during the 2010-2011 season, only seven guests accessed the shelter.
As a result of the low numbers, B.C. Housing decided not to operate the shelter and re-allocated the money to ASK Wellness.
At risk of not having a winter shelter in Merritt, the Housing Task Group made it a priority to have an emergency cold weather shelter open seven days a week during the 2011-2012 season, Dunsmore said.
“If you’re sleeping in a back alley, there is not much difference between -5 C and -8 C,” she said.
The Housing Task Group, a sub-committee of the Social Planning Council, operated the shelter with funding from various community partners and sponsors.
The CREW shelter, located downtown and open every night regardless of temperature, logged a total of 566 visitors. Dunsmore told council that 35-40 people accessed the shelter on a regular basis.
However, by the end of the season, she said the location was serving as a cold weather shelter, an emergency shelter, a supportive housing facility and a sobering centre, something that volunteers were not adequately trained to handle.
“We had volunteers from an array of people — some were ‘been there done that’ and others had big hearts,” she said. “It’s just not sustainable.”
Task group member Kelly Donaldson said a sustainable facility would include paid staff who are able to provide professional service to those accessing the shelter.
The presentation to council included a summary of the Nicola Valley Housing Needs and Demands study the Housing Task Group has prepared for submission to BC Housing.
The study, currently in draft stage, indicates that use of the CREW shelter attests to the number of homeless and near homeless people in the Nicola Valley and concludes that “there is a profound need in the Nicola Valley for a year-round emergency shelter.”
According to the study, the average household income in the Valley is 20 per cent lower than the provincial average and the reliance on welfare and employment insurance is nearly five times the provincial average for welfare among people under 25.
Merritt has several social housing facilities, however, there are no vacancies and waits can be up to four years off-reserve and up to 12 years on-reserve.
The study concludes that Merritt needs affordable housing for low income families and individuals, supportive housing for those who are hard to house due to addictions or mental illness, and supportive housing for those going into detox or coming out of treatment or jail.
Dunsmore said the task group will apply for seed funding to develop a sustainable business plan for a shelter and actively pursue affordable housing solutions within the Nicola Valley.