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More help for homeless

Homelessness initiatives in the Tri-Cities may have helped significantly reduce the overall number of people sleeping on the streets but the hardest work still lies ahead, according to one housing advocate.   - TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO
Homelessness initiatives in the Tri-Cities may have helped significantly reduce the overall number of people sleeping on the streets but the hardest work still lies ahead, according to one housing advocate.
— image credit: TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

Homelessness initiatives in the Tri-Cities may have helped significantly reduce the overall number of people sleeping on the streets but the hardest work still lies ahead, according to one housing advocate.

Rob Thiessen, director of the Hope for Freedom Society, said that as the number of homeless people shrinks, those who remain on the streets are generally the hardest to house. Whether their challenges are mental illness or severe drug and alcohol addictions — or all three — and unless services adapt, Thiessen said many will remain stubbornly committed to living outdoors.

“We are getting down to the hard stuff,” he said. “Some of these people are the hardest to house.”

During the winter months, when the cold/wet weather mat program is in operation, the society tracks the number of people it has moved from the shelter into permanent housing.  Thiessen said that while his organization has been successful in finding housing for many people, the numbers show signs that things appear to be slowing down.

Last year, more than 50 people were moved off the streets during the course of the mat program while this year, the society reported about 30 who found a place to live.

But today, many of those who have been using the shelters are the same people who started coming out when the program was first launched four years ago, he said.

Hope for Freedom Society and many provincial services are going to have to adapt and more mental health resources are needed if the hard-to-house homeless are going to be moved off the streets, he said.

“We have to morph what we do to deal with the harder core homeless population,” he said. “Strategies have to change... and that comes down to some mental health issues that we as a community and as a province are not doing a good enough job dealing with.”

Recent numbers released from the Metro Vancouver homeless count, which showed a 47% reduction in the number of people sleeping on the street, have had an opposite effect, Thiessen said. With the reduction, many people have asked him whether resources for services and a permanent shelter are still necessary in the area.

“Maybe we need a reduction in some of these services and ultimately we will come to a place where, as a community, we need to make some decisions about that,” he said. “But you really can’t make huge predictions because of a trend over a couple of years. We are going to need more time and more evidence of continued success.”

In the Tri-Cities, a permanent homeless shelter that would offer mental health and other supports is planned for city of Coquitlam land at 3030 Gordon Ave. but there is as yet no provincial funding for the project.

gmckenna@tricitynews.com

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