Number of homeless steady in Merritt, access to services improved

By on November 8, 2017
Herald file photo.

 

The number of people living without a roof over their heads in Merritt has not changed drastically over the last half decade that ASK Wellness has conducted its annual homeless connect event, but the results of this year’s event show that outreach efforts are proving to make a difference in other ways.

Seventeen individuals were identified as “absolutely homeless” during this year’s month-long homeless connect event, said Keri Cooke, ASK Wellness’ co-ordinator of Merritt clinical supports.

Last year, the organization counted 15 individuals living without an address, while there were 16 in 2015 and 18 in 2014.

But as Cooke explained, the homeless connect event isn’t simply geared at getting a sense of the scope of the homelessness problem in Merritt — but rather it serves as the first point of contact with vulnerable people, often dealing with mental health or addiction issues.

‘…Some of those 15 from the 2016 year have remained housed for over a year now.’— ASK Wellness’ Keri Cooke

“Some of the individuals we had connected with last year, who identified as absolutely homeless, we’ve kind of kept in contact with them throughout the year,” said Cooke. “I’m happy to say that some of those 15 from the 2016 year have remained housed for over a year now.”

Many of the 17 individuals that the organization made contact with this year were not the same individuals identified during last year’s connect — which points to the success of the housing programs, as well as the volatility of the homelessness issue, said Cooke.

“Circumstances change,” said Cooke, adding that the loss of a job or an unexpected health issue can lead to fluctuations in the number of absolute homeless from year to year.

From a public health standpoint, the organization used the connect event as a way to help Merritt’s vulnerable population access health services such as testing for HIV, Hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted infections.

Vaccines were also administered as well as flu shots, while a mental health and addictions counsellor was on hand to help connect people with local services.

Cooke said the majority of those identified as absolutely homeless are struggling with a mental health or addiction barrier of some kind.

“I think that we are doing better as a community. There’s always a need for more services, but there’s been a few different programs pop up over the last few months, and there are individuals who are accessing [those services],” she explained.

Volunteers — 18 of them in all — helped the connect run smoothly, as more than 80 hot meals were served on a single day in October during the event, said Cooke. “Without that support from our local businesses and community members, we wouldn’t be able to do this event each year.”

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