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Housing, childcare, and job challenges affecting viability of living in Okanagan

Image Credit: City of Vernon
August 25, 2017 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - If Jolene Graff had the choice, she would still be living in Vernon. It’s where she was born, where her oldest daughter started school, and is “a beautiful place.”

But like many, the mother of two was finding it increasingly difficult to make a living here.

“When it becomes that you’re working so hard to make it and you’re not able to enjoy living here, you have to look for a change,” she says.

She and her fiancé made the decision to relocate to Fort St. John at the beginning of July, in large part due to employment, housing and child care related issues in the Okanagan.

Before the move, her husband was commuting to Kelowna, where he worked 10 to 12 hour shifts as a red seal chef. The long hours meant that getting child care for her nine-year-old and one-year-old was the only way Graff could return to work after maternity leave.

“We went on a wait list when I was three months pregnant. I would have just been getting the space in September,” she says. “I was stuck. I couldn’t work unless I hired someone to just come and babysit.”

According to Kim Lauritsen, the programs and operations manager for North Okanagan Community Futures, one factor behind a labour shortage in the region is due to people being unable to participate in the labour market due to childcare challenges.

READ MORE'It's leading to burnout,' Vernon business owner says of local labour shortage

When Graff's maternity leave ended, she was so stuck finding work and child care that she decided to get creative. 

“I figured if daycare is such an issue, maybe I could provide it,” Graff says, explaining that she started providing care out of her home for another child. “What’s unfortunate is that the lady was a single mom, she had to go back to work. She didn’t know me from a hole in the ground. It worked out really well, but it just made me think, I don’t know how I would feel about going to someone who’s not regulated and saying ‘would you babysit my kid?”

It’s a trend Sherry Lynn Morrical, the owner of House of Dwarfs Daycare in Vernon, sees all the time.

“It’s a problem. I’m seeing on social media a lot of people with younger children that need care and there’s just nothing for them,” she says.

She says the biggest gap in Vernon is infant care — which House of Dwarfs doesn’t do. Even for older kids, however, waitlists are the norm.

House of Dwarfs Daycare operator Sherry Lynn Morrical.
House of Dwarfs Daycare operator Sherry Lynn Morrical.

“I feel terrible when people phone me because they have a three-month-old, or a 12-month-old that they need to find care for and they’re absolutely stuck because they don’t have family here, or friends who can take care of their child so they can go back to work — especially if they’re single parents,” Morrical says.

She says there are also gaps within the Ministry of Children and Family Development side of things that make it harder for parents to access immediate child care. For instance, she says there is often a delay for childcare subsidies to come in.

“Often parents have to pay up front until it kicks in, or the daycare has to trust that you’re actually going to be covered,” she says.

Another issue is there are a lot more children coming in that require special assistance.

“What we’re finding is that’s just not there for people. The waitlist is quite long If your child needs a one-on-one worker, and you don’t have one, that holds you up as well,” Morrical says.

She often sees parents desperately looking for childcare on Facebook sites, which is concerning.

“Some people are well-equipped and are doing an excellent job,” Morrical says of unlicensed, home-based daycares. “However, you really don’t know. I myself would never want to go someplace unlicensed because you just don’t have the guarantee.”

While many people have turned to social media for daycare leads, Morrical suggests they phone the Childcare Resource and Referral line in Vernon first, at 250-542-3121 extension 111.

For Graff, things changed dramatically when she moved to Fort St. John.

“We found a licensed daycare spot shortly after we moved,” she says. “Also, the vacancy rate of housing here is so different. We actually had a choice — we were able to look and pick and choose rather than just taking what was available.”

With childcare and housing taken care of, Graff has also been able to return to work.

“It pays twice as much as it would in the Okanagan. It has full benefits,” she says. “It’s tough in the Okanagan because there are a lot of small businesses — and you want to support local — but they can’t afford to pay what people need as a living wage.”

The Community Foundation of the North Okanagan completes a “Vital Signs” report every couple of years to provide a snapshot on a wide range of issues affecting the area. Executive director Leanne Hammond says that report will be coming out in the fall and will provide a look at some of the key issues facing North Okanagan residents.

“Housing affordability, childcare, labour shortages — all those issues are the key issues that will be reported on,” Hammond says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © iNFOnews, 2017

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