A solution is coming for vulnerable residents who live on the streets in Prince Rupert.
In less than a week after tents were set up outside city hall to draw public awareness to the city’s homeless issue, North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice came to the Nov. 14 council meeting with good news.
“The province committed to 2,000 modular units for those homeless or who are facing homelessness. Prince Rupert will receive 44 units of modular housing for the homeless in our community,” she said, and immediately the public filling the benches behind her broke out in applause.
It was the news that some of the people in the meeting were hoping for. Patrika McEvoy, who is leading the mini tent city movement, was there distributing pins to raise money for essentials, such as long johns for those needing the extra clothes to stay warm.
Rice’s announcement came with questions from council who asked where and when the units will be built.
“A lot of the ground work has been made and that’s why I’m confident to see these operational by March,” Rice said.
The provincial government is providing the units, the city is providing the land and the North Coast Transition Society will be operating and providing the wrap-around services. The province is spending $3.6 million on the 44 units for Prince Rupert.
“Along with these units will come funding to provide support services meant to raise individuals out of poverty and homelessness,” Rice said.
North Coast Transition Society (NCTS) now has a new, expanded mandate to be fully revealed soon. Executive director Christine White said that the society already gives out more than $10,000 to both genders every month as part of its homeless prevention program. If someone is choosing to eat food or pay rent, the society will offer the funds needed so they don’t lose their current housing.
Council welcomed the news, and its partnership with the province, the society and the community to help address the homeless situation.
“In terms of fundraising efforts and getting the community involved, I really strongly feel that those finances should be directed at the transition house. They’re really going to be taken on a whole lot more. We should be coming behind them as a community,” Mayor Lee Brain said.
The city will be providing the land, but the exact location of where the units will go has yet to be determined.
Extreme weather shelter
The modular units won’t solve the immediate issue of tents pitched outside city hall.
“An immediate response would be an extreme weather shelter and immediately we’re looking for a location to work that out of,” White said.
Initially, Prince Rupert didn’t qualify for a winter shelter. With funding from the province, the Salvation Army operates a 12-bed shelter for women, men and families out of Raffles Inn.
BC Housing statistics showed that in October Raffles only had 20 per cent occupancy rate. Rice explained to council that BC Housing looks at shelter usage in their decision making process when it comes to funding an emergency shelter and Prince Rupert’s 12-bed shelter was being underutilized.
“I think we all know, my community office knows…the people camped out on your front lawn know that the low occupancy rate at Raffles does not accurately reflect the true number of homeless that we have in Prince Rupert,” Rice said.
The North Coast Transition Society has a 55-bed shelter for women in Prince Rupert, and it is now seeking to set up an extreme weather shelter for both genders.
Councillor Joy Thorkelson said she hopes that people who need the emergency shelter can access it in both the evening and daytime. She works at the Fisherman’s Hall and she said people hang around behind the hall when they have no place to go. Today, she said, the ambulance was called there because three people were found behind the hall suffering from hypothermia.
Following Rice’s presentation to council she noted that the mini tent city showed residents, who weren’t already aware, of the challenges the community is facing in terms of homelessness.
“The community support has really come forward in an amazing way,” she said.