FCSS to investigate homelessness in Bonnyville

The Bonnyville and District FCSS will follow-up a study from years ago that investigated the issue of homelessness in Bonnyville.

FCSS director of community services David Beale presented the findings of a study conducted in 2014-15 to town council last Tuesday as the town gets more involved in the issue.

He said it’s time for an update.

“We’re going to go back, talk to the service providers, the social service people, the mental health people, the housing people and say to them, what have you seen in the last five years?” said Beale.  

“How has that been for you? What have you seen over the last little while? What’s your insight into the different stories that are out there? What kind of people do you think need assistance with housing? And we’re going to do that with or without any additional external funding, we’re going to do that internally with our own resources.”

The FCSS is also applying for an Alberta Rural Development Network grant due on June 28 which asks for communities that want to act against homelessness to apply.

“They’re calling it a housing first approach. They’re looking at it from a point of view of prevention is the best medicine here, if you can work with somebody before they leave their housing in they’re in now before they get evicted,” said Beale.

The three areas that caught Mayor Gene Sobolewski’s eye was the hidden homeless, youth homeless that are couch surfing or moving around and the at-risk group on the brink of financial troubles.

“They were by far the highest population in the homeless category. Those are individuals that are essentially paycheck to paycheck. Essentially how’s the mortgage, a few dollars away from missing the mortgage or rent payment. That was in 2014-2015,” said Sobolewski.

He is concerned with how federal legislation, like Bill C-69 and Bill C-48, and the lagging oil industry could make homelessness worse over time.

“That was a message when we were trumpeting in Ottawa,” said Sobolewski.

“We were talking about these sorts of stories, the stories of foreclosures, the stories of how these crazy bills are going to impact these communities. You talk about the homeless and at-risk, we have a situation that’s brewing, not only in the town of Bonnyville but also within this region.”

The original study began at the height of Canadian oil prices but ended as the price of oil crashed. At that time, Beale said, it was an economic question.

Now, he warns, it’s difficult to paint the issue of homelessness in one broad stroke, nor is it easy to sense how prevalent the issue really is.

“It has to be understood as a complex issue. Everybody’s got their own story. It’s a very diverse picture.

“When you’re talking about housing for people on a fixed income or a pensioner, it’s a totally different game than if you’re talking about – what do we do about housing for kids who are trying to leave home? The whole gamut from housing for families with young children, single moms with kids. That’s a different game again,” said Beale.

Beale says the approach cannot be cookie cutter because every situation is different.

“We do have people who live in cars and that kind of thing….But this doesn’t really give you a really good picture of so what is the housing issue? These individuals also represent a population that are complex needs. And they usually have some form of a mental health condition and or an addiction issue. Most of the time combined, but not always.

“So it’s not just because they lost a really good job as the oil company, and now they’re down and out. That path is very few of those,” said Beale.

“Everybody’s story is different. Everybody’s need is so different. No one solution is gonna work for everybody.”