The BC Housing/Canadian Mental Health Association project at 540 3rd St. SW, with 67 affordable housing units and 38 units with on-site supports for people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, is progressing on schedule. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

Funding approved for Salmon Arm homelessness outreach worker

BC Housing says funding in place for one year

BC Housing says funding has been approved for a homelessness outreach worker for Salmon Arm, but only for one year.

The Crown agency confirmed by email that funding is in place for the position, as requested by the City of Salmon Arm and partner agencies, but limited to one year.

With the election period underway, BC Housing, which works under the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, was unable to provide further information regarding the limitation.

The position is one the Shuswap-Revelstoke branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association has requesting for several years. CMHA executive director Dawn Pugh said it’s one part of a collaborative approach to dealing with a complex social issue.

“It really connects with people and works with them where they’re at, and helps them navigate and access services, whether that’s getting identification, applying for housing, accessing medical services,” said Pugh. “There’s really no eligibility criteria, just your willingness to work with a team to try and get supports that are going to meet your needs.”

Securing a homelessness outreach worker was a goal for Mayor Alan Harrison during his 2018 municipal election campaign, and later one of the wants sought by the city’s Social Impact Advisory Committee.

Harrison said the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing confirmed the position had been funded during the recent virtual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

“We know one of the things that we need is to have outreach workers who can go out and establish relationships and get to know some of the people who are living rough, and then to earn us trust so we can help them,” said Harrison. “That piece is happening.”

The city’s need for such a position was highlighted in a Sept. 18 letter from Downtown Salmon Arm regarding loitering at the Ross Street Plaza. The letter, received by council during its Sept. 28 meeting, notes concerns from the Downtown Business Improvement Association’s board of directors involving actions and behaviours at the plaza. The letter says actions by people at the plaza “observed as abrasive, erratic, extremely loud and at times, frightening or unnerving.”

Read more: Need for housing in Salmon Arm climbs while units being constructed

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The board acknowledged some of these behaviours are rooted in deeper issues, such as mental health, trauma or substance abuse, and stated it would continue its participation with the Social Impact Advisory Committee (SIAC) and is open to “working with other community groups to find long-term solutions to these difficult problems.”

Harrison said Downtown Salmon Arm manager Lindsay Wong would be invited to speak with SIAC, while Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond, who chairs the committee, encouraged people to register any related concerns, noting the feedback is important.

“Sometimes I think people maybe ignore or turn the other way, and don’t report when there’s some type of behaviour that’s not appropriate. We want to hear about it,” said Harrison.

Wallace Richmond, who also sits on the city’s housing task force, noted the time and effort invested to improve housing and related supports in the city are paying off, with a shelter now open 24/7, the construction of 38 housing units with onsite supports, a community outreach specialist and soon, a housing outreach worker.

“It’s been quite an honour to watch it all unfold…,” said Wallace Richmond. “The system works, it just doesn’t work as fast as some people might like.”

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