If you have the idea that homelessness in Castlegar is mainly due to drug addiction and transients, you may need to adjust your thinking.
Castlegar and District Community Services Society is in the midst of a research project looking at homelessness and labour mobility in the community. Interim results from an online survey and from a count of the local homeless population show that many people have the wrong view of what homelessness in Castlegar looks like.
Homelessness in Castlegar looks more like a woman fleeing violence, a person whose work injury meant draining their life savings, skilled people who can’t find a job, women who because of breaks with family don’t have a place to go, people with mental health issues, single moms staying temporarily with friends while desperately looking for an affordable place of their own, single moms and kids sleeping in cars, and senior citizens and working parents who can’t afford secure housing.
At the time of the homeless count, outreach workers found 11 unsheltered individuals, seven homeless but temporarily sheltered individuals and three individuals described as hidden homeless — technically housed, but in a situation where they are just temporarily staying with someone else.
Most of the cases that come to the Homeless Partnering Program office at community services are not considered chronic. They are people facing housing crises and are typically without housing less than six months. A few local people have been living outside for decades, but that is not the norm.
“Local people have expressed that transients and criminal elements are responsible for a portion of the homeless issue, but thus far, no confirmation of that has been found,” explained program co-ordinator Hugh McGillivray.
The Community Harvest Food Bank and local RCMP back up that fact, noting most of their contacts are locals.
While substance abuse issues do play a role for some of the homeless population, McGillivray says that without the housing issues attached, those issues could simply be treated as medical issues.
“While it is true that a small portion of people remain locked in cycles of self-destruction, they are neither numerous enough to call a trend, nor problematic enough to call a crisis,” said McGillivray.
McGillivray boils the local situation down to the fact that a lack of secure housing is exacerbating problems in people’s lives that they would otherwise be able to handle with dignity.
“Homelessness and poverty are crushing otherwise capable people,” he said. “This is not an issue of character — it is a systemic issue.”
The greatest common denominator revealed so far in the study is the increasing price of housing.
McGillivray says for those relying on a disability pension, rental prices in town are simply out of reach.
The homelessness and labour mobility survey is open for several more months and community services would like everyone in town to take it. More information is available at cdcss.ca.