The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) is accepting funding applications for the Strengthening Communities’ Services Program, which has been designed to support unsheltered homeless populations, and address the related community impacts. 

The funding will be provided by the Province of BC and Government of Canada. 

A report on the program, and how it would benefit Merritt, was presented to mayor and council at the April 6 council meeting.

In order to coordinate and implement the many aspects of the project, a significant portion of the project will be to hire a Housing and Support Coordinator who will: 

    • Participate in Merritt Agency Support Table meetings and liaise with the participating agencies to continue to provide wrap-around support to those at risk of becoming homeless; 
    • Work with relevant support agencies to distribute funds for temporary hotel rooms, specialty food hampers, hygiene kits, specialty clothing; 
    • Identify the best options and processes for storage of valuable discarded items; 
    • Support the Nicola Valley Shelter and Support Society (NVSSS) through a transition to a more sustainable operating structure; 
    • Work with the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology to deliver local training opportunities for City staff, elected officials, and front-line workers. 

The report also explained that public concerns regarding homelessness are often brought to City Hall or the Community Policing Office (CPO). 

The NVSSS has reported an increase in individuals accessing the shelter, in part due to utilizing best practices in meeting the needs of the homeless and also due to additional funding from BC Housing to safely house people during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The greatest difficulty for NVSSS has been to find sustainable funding and to manage operations with a volunteer board. 

Funding supports for local programs such as NVSSS, and the Merritt Agency Support Table are time-limited, which could result in a dwindling of services or difficulties in delivering them. This is particularly alarming, considering that the number of people experiencing homelessness in Merritt is growing. 

In a 2018 ‘point in time’ count, eleven unsheltered individuals were found. However, in a more recent count which took place in March 2020, 34 unsheltered individuals were found, 19 of which indicated that they were couch surfing or staying with someone at their place. 

“There is concern for both general public health and safety as well as the health and safety of individuals experiencing homelessness,” reads the report presented to council. 

“The discarding of personal materials, waste and needles creates a general public health and safety issue. There have also been concerns about theft from vehicles, yards, households, and businesses. For the individuals experiencing homelessness there are significant risks to both their physical and mental health.”

There is no financial risk to the City in making the application, as UBCM will contribute up to 100% of eligible costs to a maximum of $450,000 for communities with a population of 5,000 to 40,000. 

The City of Merritt will request $231,500 which will cover all proposed activities.