With the National Day of Rememberance and Action on Violence Against Women coming up, the Omineca Express spoke to Sylvia Byron, who runs the Omineca Safe Home, about the possibility of creating something similar for the men of Vanderhoof.
“I think there’s a need for a men’s shelter everywhere,” said Byron. “Definitely. I think that men’s services don’t get the appropriate response. We have men struggling. There’s a need for men’s services in this community, there’s a need for housing in this community. Violence and addiction is complicated. It’s not just because people want to choose that. It’s because they’ve learned it, they’re struggling and they’re in poverty. They don’t feel there’s any options. So unless we have an option for people to reach for help, they may choose to reach for addiction.”
Byron wants to look at a prevention strategy that includes advocacy for both men for women. She is a feminist, but she believes that things won’t get better unless both sides are taken care of.
There’s not a lot of options for men,” she said. “And I don’t think that’s fair.”
Another thing Byron would like to see is permanent, long-term housing for single people.
“We have B.C. Housing for people with families,” she said. “But if you have a really big family, there’s not many options and if you are just a single person, there’s basically nothing. And they’re getting less and less available, all the time.”
Byron would like to see something in place that would be almost exactly the same as the shelter available from the Safe Home.
At the Omineca Safe Home, women are provided with advocacy, counselling, childcare, referral, and accompaniment. As well as a safe place to stay away from violence or violent households.
“You can’t force people to do stuff, they need to be able to access it on their own time. You need a place for men to go, when they feel unsafe or unsafe in their community. Or if they feel like they’re going to be unsafe to be around.”
Vanderhoof RCMP Detachment Commander Sergeant Jason Keays believes that a men’s shelter is desperately needed in Vanderhoof, especially during the next few months when it will be so cold for anyone forced to live on the streets.
“We have apprehended people before for fear that they would succumb to alcohol and the cold,” said Sgt. Keays. “I would welcome a men’s shelter, at least a cold weather shelter that could be unisex.”
Keays took a walk down the street and found several places where people will commonly take shelter from the cold. The post office and the lobby for bank are a couple places where people can stay warm but this only causes friction between the homeless and the rest of the community.
“There absolutely is a need for a men’s shelter,” said Sgt. Keays. “The Omineca Safe Home does a terrific job, what I’d like to see is somewhere men can warm up and know they’ll be safe. Let’s start the ball rolling.”
There has already been one nearly tragic case this year. The case of a couple hitchhiking their way through town one night in the pouring rain. An RCMP officer happened to hear of these people and the community really came together to support them. A church donated food and clothing, and the couple even got a bus ticket to help them on their way.
Byron estimates that there are maybe 200 homeless people in Vanderhoof. There are varying degrees of homelessness but about 200 people in Vanderhoof could benefit from some sort of shelter and the services it could provide.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if mom and the kids could stay home, and dad had a place to go?” said Byron. “A safe place, where he didn’t have to drink if he didn’t want to. That he could find a place to sleep and stay warm.”
The Omineca Safe Home started in 1988 because women saw the need for it. It was volunteer run and had the support of the RCMP who have always tried to find the best way to keep the community safe.
That’s what should be replicated here according to Byron, and it should be government funded and community supported.