‘I know where the city is coming from’: Salvation Army executive director on potential homeless encampment bylaw

The executive director of the local Salvation Army said he appreciates a councillor’s request for city staff to create a bylaw proposal prohibiting homeless encampments on public property.
A small encampment outside of the Northern Centre of Hope. ( Tre Lopushinsky, Energeticcity.ca )

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — The executive director of the local Salvation Army said he appreciates a councillor’s request for city staff to create a bylaw proposal prohibiting homeless encampments on public property.

Jared Braun said he wishes the city well in attempting to contain the tenting situation.

“I think the reality is, we’re seeing this across the country. This is going to be a challenge for a while,” Braun said.

“I know where the city’s coming from in wanting to support business owners, commercial residents, and public park spaces for the enjoyment of all.”

Braun thinks some ideas councillor Trevor Bolin put forward, such as some other type of space where people can access temporary lodging, would need to be looked into further.

He mentioned that some individuals don’t like the options the Salvation Army offers because they prefer to have complete independence and their own housing.

“If people are not choosing to stay with us, they will need to find someplace, and that is the tricky thing is, in Fort St. John, we are the only shelter in town, and we have the only supportive housing facility, so the options get limited pretty quickly,” Braun said.

The emergency shelter, running year-round, has 24 beds available through a contract with BC Housing, and is full most nights, said Braun.

“Especially with those tenting beside us, we always want to make sure that they’re aware that they can check in and they can have a bed available to them,” Braun said.

“We’ve done a lot of work to make the shelter as accessible as possible.”

The shelter is temporary lodging, meaning tenants must check in daily. Those utilizing the shelter will get a bed, blanket, pillow, hygiene supplies, access to a bathroom and shower, as well as lunch and dinner each day.

Braun said caseworkers can offer medical, mental health and employment supports also.

“We’re in talks with BC Housing about expanding the shelter capacity for a few more beds, but that’s not confirmed yet,” he said.

In the winter, the short-term housing option adds another 26 beds, which requires the Salvation Army to bring in more staff and food supplies.

The executive director thinks some confusion surrounds why the shelter can’t accommodate 50 beds year-round, but it comes down to the safety of everyone involved, security and funding support.

The Salvation Army offers a lower barrier housing program with 12 beds on top of the 24 beds of transitional housing.

“Then, of course, the brand new building is 42 units of supportive housing. That’s long-term,” Braun said.

The supportive housing started welcoming new tenants in April, and Braun said they are about three-quarters full.

“We’re doing a gradual tenanting process to let people get settled in and get familiar with the staff,” Braun explained.

Braun also wanted to dispel the assumption that people had to be sober to access the Salvation Army’s services.

“Yes, we are a Christian organization but we open our doors to anyone. We are not discriminating in any way,” Braun added.

“We make our services available, and sobriety is not a requirement.”

While it is true they do not allow the consumption of substances in the building or on the property, people can still come to the building active in addiction or even under the influence.

“If they’re under the influence to a degree that’s unsafe to them or others, we usually just provide monitoring in our front lobby to make sure that they’re safe before they would access their bed,” Braun said.

The food bank has remained busy in 2023, with 2,004 people accessing the food bank since January, including 220 new applicants.

In the summer months, with the hotter weather and the smoke in the air, the Salvation Army is looking for donations of bottled water and non-perishable food items for the food bank.

Financial donations can be made by connecting with the organization through its Facebook page or website.

Braun thanked the community for their support as well.

“We need everyone working together to address some of these challenging situations and circumstances, and I’m grateful that Fort St. John has a generous heart,” Braun said. 

“I think we all are looking for the well-being of each other and to see our community thrive.”


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