As of Monday Jan. 18 afternoon, over a hundred Vanderhoof residents have signed a petition addressed to Mayor Gerry Thiessen, to ask for a safe, secure and accessible homeless shelter in the district.
“It has come to the attention of Vanderhoof citizens, that there is a need for a low barrier Homeless Shelter in Vanderhoof. There has been a number of organizations advocating for a shelter, but unfortunately they have not been successful as of yet,” wrote Vernonica Zwick who started the petition on change.org.
“We would like to reach out to the District of Vanderhoof Mayor and Council for support in our endeavour, and for help in securing a location. We understand that the District may be able to help locate a vacant building or lot,” she further stated.
Zwick started the petition on change.org and has attached a letter written by Lynne Stuart, RSW, Med. Director of Omineca Safe Home Society.
In her letter, Stuart broke down the reasons for building a shelter, why its important, and the facilities that will be provided through the shelter.
There are some preconceived ideas about who accesses a shelter, she said, noting that people become stranded in this remote and often cold area, for numerous reasons.
“They include: an inability to afford a hotel when coming from neighboring communities for medical appointments, people needing to reach communities along the Highway of Tears who do not have secure transportation and women who are fleeing violence and, the safe home is full,” Stuart said, adding that the lack of available evening transit in the area also contributes to the issue.
With rentals in the area being ‘scarce’ and ‘expensive’ as stated by a recent study completed by UNBC, that can be an issue as well.
“We also know that folks who struggle with mental health or substances are especially vulnerable, and the idea that they would use a shelter is a good thing, not a negative. There, they can be safe and potentially access services they were previously unaware of. We see this as harm reduction, and research proves that harm reduction is effective,” Stuart wrote.
The Omineca Safe Home Society provides 24 hour transition house for women and children who feel unsafe in their home due to violence, threat of violence, and or abuse.
The Society is almost always full to capacity, and has on average had to turn away one woman per week, because they are not fleeing violence, but are in fact, without a place to live, Stuart said. “You can understand the danger this places on women, and we know that women in this community ‘couch surf’ in less than safe places and are often propositioned, just to have a place to sleep.”
Even though the Society has opened their doors in the winter to women outside of their mandate.
Stuart said that men also face homelessness and have no place to go when it gets cold.
The collective vision for Zwick and Stuart is to secure a building in town for easy access.
This shelter would be co-ed with separate sleeping areas and at a minimum it would be staffed in the evening and closed during the day.
“It would be a place where folks could sleep safely and connect with staff or volunteers and establish connections with service providers if requested,” Stuart said.
It would be a low barrier shelter, with an emphasis on appropriate behaviour, not sobriety. There will be policies and procedures in place to keep the operation organized and safe, she said.
“The goal would be that staff be trained in trauma informed perspective, with an understanding of trauma/mental health, and strong communication skills.”
The Express has reached out to the District of Vanderhoof for a comment.