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Hinton homeless need HELP

Masha Scheele

Hinton should be concerned about homelessness in the community according to the newly released Homelessness Estimation report conducted through Hinton Employment & Learning Place (HELP).

A grant from the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN) allowed HELP to collaborate with community partners and put together the homelessness estimation count.

The study was conducted through surveys in 2018 between Sept 17 until Oct 18 and received 160 responses from vulnerable citizens. 

The first question of the survey asked participants if they felt their housing was unstable, to which 121 responded they felt it was unstable and 25 per cent of those people stated that the main reason was low income; while 18 per cent said it was due to not being able to pay their rent or mortgage.

“My next question, which is not in the estimation [survey] is if you had to choose between food and paying your rent, would your housing be insecure?” said Candace Pambrun, homelessness coordinator at HELP during the presentation of the report to council at the regular council meeting on June 11. “Sometimes we don’t ask the right questions. Or sometimes we are scared to ask those questions.”

She added that the questions asked in the survey will be reviewed and that it is recommended to gather estimation reports every two years.

The majority of participants said they were staying at a house, apartment, or friend’s place but 22 per cent stated that in the previous week they either camped, stayed in their vehicle, sidewalks, parks, or other makeshift shelters. When asked where they would be staying the following week, 24 per cent were unsure.

Basic needs like food, shelter, medical, showers, or laundry is what 78 per cent of the participants were looking for in the organizations involved in collecting the data for the report, while other needs included support services, financial support, health and wellness, transportation needs, or legal help. Seventy-seven per cent were unemployed and while most were receiving income support in other ways like AISH, 23 per cent had no income whatsoever. 

“There’s a thought that getting a job would change it all, but when you don’t have ID, and you don’t have a social insurance number, and you don’t know where you lived last to call Service Canada to get that information, it all becomes very difficult,” said Pambrun.

“As far away as we are from affordable housing, for some people we’re as far away from employment.” Of the employed group, most people worked in hospitality, or food and beverage.

“There’s a lot of people who are at risk of becoming homeless and a lot of people who are homeless right now,” said Deena Fuller, Executive Director at HELP. “We’ve been successful in securing grants from the provincial government and the Town of Hinton to employ a full time homelessness coordinator, which is great. She’s been working very hard with our clients to get their basic needs met.”

The homelessness coordinator position will be funded until June 2020. Mayor Marcel Michaels asked whether the Town of Hinton should be supporting HELP’s homelessness coordinator position and getting FCSS involved.

“There has to be some kind of funding by 2020. I don’t know what would happen to these people, but the ripple effect is that you will surely see crime increasing, you will surely see problems with health care, you will surely see our police services become drained, you will surely see an increase in mental health, it will be very visible I believe,” responded Pambrun.

On top of securing money for the homelessness coordinator position and HELP’s Freddy’s room for the homeless, HELP is also seeking funding to get a mat program off the ground.

The Lutheran Church in Hinton has committed to allow HELP to organize a mat program in their church basement. Currently in the very first development stages, they hope the mat program can open the doors in October until April providing overnight shelter for those in need. “I closely follow what Drayton Valley has done with their program, they have been very generous and gifted us all of their protocols, their policies, all of how they’ve done it from the ground up. And we hope to mimic that,” said Pamburn. 

Pambrun stressed that the gap between affordable housing and homelessness is incredible due to barriers like identification, access to a mailbox, lack of bank accounts, no references, no availability for a single bedroom in Hinton, apartment buildings turning into Air BnB’s, and more. Coun. Trevor Haas brought up the fact that Air BnB’s in Hinton aren’t being taxed as businesses, pocketing the money, and taking away housing from people in Hinton who may need it.

“I’m hoping that council and administration can work together on this and do what other communities have done and eliminated Air BnB’s and have a significant penalty if they have that,” said Haas. A motion was later put forth to bring a report back to council with options on regulating Air BnB’s in Hinton.

Surveys for the report were collected through BRIDGES, Yellowhead Emergency Shelter, HELP, Food Bank, Friendship Centre, Alberta Supports and others.