‘Can I sleep at the church tonight?” the anonymous person asked before revealing that she had been riding the SkyTrain for much of the night.
What hope for a good night sleep could I offer her? What would you say if that same person approached you on the street?
What causes homelessness for a person, like for that young girl who called the church that Monday morning?
You may offer some wise opinions such as a lack of employment, high rental costs, addictions and mental health struggles. These answers would all be very good, but what causes homelessness?
No roof over one’s head. People are homeless because they don’t have a place to stay that they can call home. Currently, there are 140 people on the Peninsula who are of no fixed address.
Those are the people who you may not see who are couch surfing, sleeping in their cars, squatting in the new construction or have set up a homeless camp in the bush.
Furthermore, there are thousands of South Surrey/White Rock residents who are one or two paycheques away from a similar fate.
The situation is in crisis across the housing spectrum. Most of us have family members who have moved away from our region because of the high cost of renting and buying. There’s also the 1,639 people who came to the Peninsula’s extreme-weather shelter this past year. That’s an average of 18 homeless guests per night in our region, 20 per cent of whom are women.
With a near-zero vacancy rate in South Surrey and White Rock, along with homelessness growing by 142 per cent in the last homeless count, we need some bold new solutions.
Amongst our homeless population, 49 per cent identify better-paying jobs as a possible solution to their plight. Furthermore, 50 per cent say that rents are too high. The answer to that is to increase the affordable-housing stock.
This is an issue the federal government can do something about.
The Peninsula Homeless to Housing Task Force is hosting an all-candidates forum on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. to address this very issue. It will take place at Gracepoint Church (3487 King George Blvd.) and is expected to be the largest-attended election forum in our riding. All five declared candidates of the major parties are confirmed to be attending.
Something needs to be done in our region. This crisis cannot go on without innovative resolutions.
The candidates have been given questions around poverty, jobs and affordable housing to answer that evening. You will also have an opportunity to submit questions related to this issue.
The city of Medicine Hat, Alta. has managed to virtually eliminate homelessness in their city through a “housing first” policy. They provide a roof over the head and then bring along appropriate supports.
The first answer to homelessness is providing more affordable housing stock in our region.
We at the Peninsula Homeless to Housing Task Force intend to keep our elected official accountable for any solutions offered during our election forum.
And I look forward in the future to receiving less heart-breaking phone calls from those who have no place to sleep.
Rick Bayer is the pastor of Gracepoint Community Church and the chairman of the Peninsula Homeless to Housing Task Force.