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Lift Community Services opens winter shelter as homeless numbers increase

A winter shelter has been opened by Lift Community Services as Powell River sees an increase in homelessness.

The shelter is located next to the CRC on Joyce Avenue. Lift says the shelter will be open on a first-come, first-serve basis 24 hours a day. However, visitors won’t be allowed to come in and out between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The shelter is also pet-friendly.

This will be the third time Lift is using a sheltered format, with a break in between because of the pandemic, according to Executive Director Stuart Clark.

Clark says that over the years homelessness has become worse in Powell River. He says the pandemic has made things worse, similar to other areas in the province.

“We knew in 2018 that we had a problem,” he said. “Sure enough, in 2020 the pandemic hit. So we had another 50 people on the street in a matter of six months.”

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Clark feels that many people wound up on the streets because of renovictions as people upgraded their homes. But he also says people who may have been couch surfing were not able to because of health concerns.

While hard data isn’t available, he estimates the bulk of people experiencing homelessness are men between the ages of 30 and 50 years old.

“It’s such a quick economic change. I think a lot of people that didn’t even expect to be homeless ended up homeless,” said Clark. “It’s challenging all of our assumptions about how homelessness is created in the first place.”

He also referenced things like the overdose crisis adding to the load.

Another issue for Lift has been keeping staff, he says keeping a shelter open has been difficult as people left the organization. Still, he says they are able to continue for now.

“We hung in there even though we were a bit concerned,” said Clark. “There are people out there who want to work but it just takes longer to find the people, it takes longer to staff up.”

He says the main concern for them right now is the Omicron variant of COVID-19 coming to Powell River and creating a staff shortage.

While the shelter will be temporary, Clark says Lift is working with Coastal Health, BC Housing and community partners to bring in more affordable housing for those who need the assistance.

“We’re pretty optimistic that we’ll get back on track with having homes for everybody in this community this year,” he added. “We don’t know when the next wave of homelessness will come or what the pandemic will bring.”

However, Clark believes they are turning a corner for 2022.

READ MORE: BC Mayors Call on Province for Housing for those with Complex Needs

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