Study finds homelessness, but also opportunity

A study on the area homeless completed in December could lead to opportunities for the disenfranchised in Fort St. James.

  • Jan. 16, 2013 10:00 a.m.

A study on the area homeless completed in December could lead to opportunities for the disenfranchised in Fort St. James.

The study began the engagement process through a five-week pilot study, made possible through a Community Action Initiative grant, which allowed two researchers to design and conduct a survey of 33 disenfranchised or homeless in the community.

Initiated by the local CNC campus, in partnership with Nak’azdli Health Centre, Nak’azdli Alternate Justice Centre, the District of Fort St. James and the United Way, the study surveyed the living conditions and needs of the disenfranchised in the community.

Ann McCormick of CNC was quick to clarify the idea behind the study was not to take over any already existing programs, but instead to look at ways to help refer people to the existing services and begin “filling in the gaps.”

“It’s about supporting them in some lifelong learning,” she said. With the Men’s House, drop-ins at Mental Health and Nak’azdli Alternate Justice all already offered in the community, the plan is instead to network the different resources together and to give the people the programs are trying to help some input as to what else is needed.

“So we’re doing it with them not to them,” said McCormick. “It’s about engaging them.”

One of the study researchers, Clara Jack, said she was surprised how many actually homeless people there were, some of whom were still sleeping outside at -15 degrees Celcius.

Her fellow researcher Ruby Taylor said she was surprised to learn nine people are sharing a tiny travel trailer on the reserve with a small propane heater. The group has to use the washroom at an elders house down the road.

Taylor said the study was difficult, because of the time pressure they were working under to get it completed and because many of the people they were interviewing were emotional and struggling with depression.

“It just made you think, here you are laying in your bed nice and warm, got your wood stove going, got smells of food going,” said Taylor.

The researchers heard how some people would like to be able to work with elders and their traditional language, many would like to be able to take workshops, some are hoping an outreach worker could be made available to them downtown, and out of the 33 surveyed, only one preferred a drop-in on the Nak’azdli Reserve. More than half were from other reserves and did not feel comfortable accessing resources on reserve.

Of the 33 surveyed, 15 per cent were between the ages of 18 and 30, 24 per cent were between 31 and 40, 27 per cent were between 41 and 50 and a third of the group were over 51.

Forty-eight per cent of those interviewed said they have no home or couch surf with relatives.

McCormick said the group organizing the programs already has commitments from different groups to help offer programs those surveyed were interested in and needed.

CNC expects to hear by Jan. 30 whether or not they will receive the next round of funding for $200,000 to go forward with programs and establishing a drop in.