FORT ST. JOHN, B.C – The City of Fort St. John is applying for COVID-19 Restart Funding to address homelessness and other community impacts due to the pandemic.
City staff will apply for up to $450,000 through the Local Governments Strengthening Communities Services grant.
Community Services Director Karin Carlson’s April 12th report to council states the pandemic has resulted in an increase in domestic violence, substance use and homelessness.
“The demographics we are most worried about are those especially vulnerable to health and safety risks associated with living unsheltered in our community, including women, children and Indigenous people,” says Carlson’s report.
“We know that having access to safe and reliable shelter is critical to peoples’ mental and emotional health and well-being. Without shelter, people are more at-risk of substance use, addiction and mental health challenges, as well as violence and COVID-19 transmission.”
City staff is looking to partner with community organizations to find a temporary solution to combat the increase in homelessness. The solutions presented include hotel room rentals as temporary shelters, a zero-barrier warming centre to provide shelter during winter months, and additional units and staffing to expand existing shelter for unsheltered women and children fleeing violence.
A 2020 survey conducted by the Homelessness Services Association of BC found homelessness increased by 25 per cent since 2018 in the city. This is the result of a count done by the Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society between March 10th and 11th last year to provide an overall snapshot of homelessness in the community.
The organization counted 76 people experiencing homelessness compared to 61 in 2018, with 42 per cent being homeless for more than a year. The survey shows 62 per cent reported having challenges with addiction, and 49 per cent have mental health challenges. The majority of the individual are Indigenous, with 57 per cent, 18 per cent identified as female.
The main reason for housing loss included not enough income (28 per cent), conflict with a partner (23 per cent) and substance use issues (16 per cent).
The city hopes to create a Housing and Homelessness Task Force involving the following stakeholders and partners:
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