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Despite community efforts — the homeless are still with us
Despite efforts to shelter the homeless, bylaw officers in Coquitlam and Port Moody continue to deal with homeless camps and are removing a handful every month, even in winter.
As recently as this week, PoCo bylaw officers removed a homeless camp and while absolute numbers are hard to come by, advocates working with homeless speculate about 25 people with persistent issues are living in the bush.
According to the most recent count, about 45 people are homeless in the Tri-Cities, but the number is fluid. Some choose to stay in local shelters while others move in and out of housing, depending on their circumstances.
Last month marked a milestone in the support of homeless people, according to shelter workers. About a dozen people who used the Bridge Shelter at the Northside Church on Kingsway in December decided to move off the streets and were found housing.
"Our hope is that they stay in housing," said Rob Thiessen, the managing director for the Hope for Freedom Society that runs the shelter and provides outreach services.
But he's worried many of these people will struggle, and maybe even lose their place, because of the difficult issues they have to deal with.
"It's a combination of self-will and a lack of resources, especially for those with mental health issues," said Thiessen. He wants mental health workers out in the field to help those who will never cross the threshold of a shelter or a mental health office.
He may soon get what he's been asking for. Fraser Health has confirmed it will be piloting an outreach program for people with mental health issues in the Tri-Cities. Although no date has been set, the Assertive Community Treatment program that puts mental health workers in the field — in homes, community centres, parks and other places — will come to the northeast and could support some hard to house people who have mental health issues.
"It's designed to target the most vulnerable and hard to reach clients that may not respond well to traditional outpatient treatment methods," explained Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma.
Mental health supports
The program couldn't come soon enough for Thiessen, who said he will be working with Fraser Health to help get it established.
Thiessen said a psychiatric nurse used to meet with homeless people and those services were missed when the program was discontinued. He said mental health support could make the difference for some people living in the bush who could be a danger to themselves, and would benefit from more assertive mental health services.
"We've been gently and not so gently telling government resources they have to bring their services to this group; they can't sit behind glass doors and expect people to push their way in."
These hard to house individuals are among a core group of people who have multiple barriers, including mental health issues and substance abuse. They tend to live in bushes along the Coquitlam River, and they move around between Port Coquitlam or Coquitlam to avoid bylaw officers or to replace a camp that was taken down, Thiessen said.
Dan Scoones, PoCo's manager of bylaw services, says the city has been pretty consistent over the years in taking down homeless camps close to parks, trails and other public and private properties. But it also lets people know that services are available to help them.
"We say you can get help, you don't have to be out in the bush. These are people who in the fall could have said I'll come into shelter," said Dan Scoones, PoCo's manager of bylaw services.
While there are fewer camps then there were even three years ago, when 125 camps were removed, Scoones says bylaw officers took down 63 camps last year.
Homeless Camps removed - By the numbers
Port Coquitlam 81 (2011) 63 (2012)
Coquitlam 22 (2011) 25 (2012)