Homelessness Action Week is an annual event that looks to bring awareness and understanding to issues surrounding B.C.’s unhoused population. Through education, advocacy, and social media activity, the week of awareness hopes to inspire people to take action on this issue that is increasing in prevalence throughout the province and the country.  

The 2020/21 Report on Homeless Counts in B.C. identified 8,665 individuals experiencing homelessness within the province. This included 222 children under the age of 19 that were accompanied by a parent or guardian. Approximately 62 percent of these individuals were sheltered, with 38 percent remaining unsheltered. Homelessness Action Week aims to bring attention to these numbers, and advocate for active solutions to the underlying causes.

“By proclaiming Homelessness Action Week in B.C., the Province acknowledges the tireless work of organizations and advocates to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness, which has only proven more difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the toxic-drug and affordable-housing crises,” said Murray Rankin, BC’s attorney general and minister for housing.

“I would also like to acknowledge those currently struggling with homelessness, and peers providing support in unhoused communities. Our government recognizes the disproportionate impacts of colonization on Indigenous Peoples experiencing homelessness, and the impacts of systemic discrimination and racism.”

The City of Merritt is also focused on supporting unhoused residents, and has said it is working closely with the Nicola Valley Shelter and Support Society (NVSSS) and Endeavour to Be Better program, who both administer social and housing support services. The society also runs the NVSSS shelter on Voght Street. 

The Province is looking to increase the amount of affordable housing units available to those needing shelter through its 10-year ‘Homes for BC’ plan, a 2018 report by government which lists a 30 point plan to increase fairness in the housing market. The report suggests taxing speculators and foreign buyers, while increasing housing available to those in vulnerable communities.

“This year, we committed $633 million in Budget 2022 for complex-care housing, increased support for young people in and transitioning from government care, rent supplements with health, housing and social supports, and permanent housing for up to 3,000 people in temporary COVID-19 spaces,” added Rankin.

“We know there is more work to do to help unhoused or precariously housed British Columbians find a stable home that works for them. Government continues to use groundbreaking data that is helping us understand, for the first time, how many people in our province experienced homelessness at any point in a year to get a more complete picture of who is experiencing homelessness and how to address it more effectively.”

A number of ‘tent cities’ have popped up across the country in recent years, a sign of economic downturn and hardship for many. The City of Merritt has allowed unhoused people to set up tents at N’Kwala Park for overnight use. ??Those who choose to camp at N’Kwala Park can access hot showers and breakfast at the shelter, and the adjoining Lions Memorial Park offers bathroom facilities.

Those needing support can contact NVSSS at 250-315-1350, or visit the shelter at 2350 Voght Street. For more information on the society and its programs, call 250-315-0155.