November 20, 2013 - 5:03 PM
VERNON - Did you notice the temperature drop? So did local men and women’s shelters.
Kelly Fehr, director of shelter services with the John Howard Society, says they’re averaging five people a night in their extreme weather shelter program, which provides overflow accommodation for up to ten people. The program is offered from Nov. 1 to the end of March.
“I expect by the end of the month we’ll be full,” Fehr says.
It’s been a full house in the shelter’s regular housing units for the past few months. Where they usually average about 85 per cent occupancy, Fehr says they’ve been full for the past four months. Gateway was forced to turn customers away 74 times in October because there just wasn’t room, while Howard House turned away ten. Those numbers may represent the same people on different nights, but it’s still a significant rise, Fehr says. And the answer isn’t necessarily adding more beds at the shelter. A big part of the problem is the lack of supported low income housing in Vernon, forcing some customers to return on a regular basis.
“Having more (affordable housing) would help us transition folks from the shelter into low income housing, and create space here to help those other people,” Fehr says.
He says a variety and often combination of issues such as mental health, history of abuse, or addictions issues make it difficult for some individuals to maintain housing. Add on a strained economy and rising living costs, and you start running out of places you can afford.
“To think to yourself ‘why don’t they just go get a job’ is really an unreasonable perception to have. If we could all just show a little more love and compassion in the community, it would go a long way to support those in need,” Fehr says.
Facilities like Bill’s Place, a recovery house and sober-living apartment which opened up this spring, help ease pressures at the shelter. But it’s not enough to find beds for those turned away in the month of October.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013