Program to help Castlegar homeless will continue

CBT funds outreach, support project by local agency

People struggling with homelessness in Castlegar will continue to get support from a local agency thanks to the Columbia Basin Trust.

The Trust announced a series of grants this week for community groups across the region to address social needs. Among them, the Castlegar and District Community Services Society will get $84,130 to continue its outreach program to combat homelessness.

READ more: CBT provides nearly $1 million in funding to social organizations

“We need to house those homeless and at-risk in our community, and put supports in place to keep people housed,” says CDCSS executive director Kristein Johnson.

The agency launched its Homelessness Partnering Strategy last January to support homeless people and those struggling to keep a roof over their head. An outreach worker hired by CDCSS worked with nearly 50 people — including five pregnant women — on a variety of needs.

“We were dealing with people living in the street, we were dealing with people couch-surfing, at risk of homelessness,” she says. “We had young people , older people, pregnant women. The statistics we feel show we were very successful.”

That help came in many different forms.

“Sometimes we could help provide emergency rent or a damage deposit, or cover outstanding rents to prevent evictions,” says Johnson. “There were other things — like grocery cards, transportation to other communities, prescriptions — various things.”

The variety of supports shows that homelessness — while an almost invisible issue in Castlegar — is also complex and deeply embedded problem.

“It is worth noting that rural homelessness differs from urban in a few ways,” the CDCSS’ homelessness support worker said in her final report. “In Castlegar there are limited-to-no services available to those at risk of or struggling with homelessness. The community has a “Not In My Backyard” perspective.

“Those most at risk [are] the working poor,” she continues. “Wages do not match up to the cost of housing.”

That outreach worker has since left the agency, so the first thing CDCSS has to do is hire a new person and set goals for the program, says Johnson.

“We need to sit down and come up with a plan, in the near future for sure, to make sure we have a clear understanding of what we are going to do, and what he/she is going to do.”

The agency will also continue to work with Deb McIntosh at the Castlegar food bank, and see if money can be raised to increase the affordable housing stock in Castlegar. Both the provincial and federal governments have announced new funding to combat homelessness and affordability issues, which encourages Johnson.

“I think there’s a hope that they’re recognizing it,” she says. “With the funding we did receive, we plan to see if we can leverage additional funds. It’s not easy because we’re a non-profit. But we’ll try, anyway, that’s the goal. And because of that, there’s some hope the issue can be addressed.”

Another group, the Kootenay Society for Community Living, got funding from the CBT in the spring to build an 11-unit complex of affordable housing. That project won’t break ground for some time, however.

READ more: Support for affordable housing in Castlegar

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