Fifty-one people who were either experiencing or at-risk of homelessness lived in a hotel just outside Nelson for a year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The North Shore Inn was home to an average of 21 people per night from April 2020 near the beginning of B.C.’s lockdown to March 2021, according to the 13th annual Report Card on Homelessness released Tuesday by the Nelson Committee on Homelessness (NCOH).
Rebecca Martin, NCOH’s community co-ordinator, said the arrangement to house people at the inn was made necessary by the lack of available space required to physically distance clients at Stepping Stones shelter.
“We needed another site,” she said. “We wanted to keep people experiencing homelessness safe, and also the community at large safe. Just make sure that people had a safe place to go, a safe place to self isolate.”
At the North Shore Inn, which is located across from Nelson over the bridge, Nelson CARES staff continue to provide on-site mental health and harm reduction support 24-7, plus food and access to the safe drug supply.
Martin said NCOH is using the inn as a prototype for what supportive housing could look like in Nelson. Supportive housing differs from the city’s affordable housing developments such as Hall Street Place in that it is specifically designed to assist people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness.
“When COVID first happened, people were told stay at home, don’t leave unless you absolutely have to. It’s like, well, what do you do if you don’t have a home?” she said.
“So I think just that awareness, and really the resources, the financial funding that we’ve been receiving federally and from BC Housing, has just been fantastic.”
BC Housing’s funding for space at the North Shore Inn ends in March 2022. Before that occurs, Nelson CARES is working to place occupants in permanent housing. The report shows at least nine people who stayed at the inn have since found housing.
Rent, housing stock
The latest report also provides a picture of Nelson’s rental market, which had a 0.5 per cent overall vacancy rate in 2020. It was the third straight year there were zero vacancies for studio apartments, and the sixth consecutive year of no vacancies for one-bedroom homes.
Despite a provincial freeze on rent increases that took effect March 30, 2020, there were small increases on studio and one-bedroom apartments.
Average monthly rents for studios in October 2020 were $687, up from $650 in October 2019 and $605 in 2016.
One bedrooms rose during that same time to $809 from $803, and from $714 in 2016.
Two bedrooms averaged $1,027 monthly in 2020, down $10 from the previous year but up from $830 in 2016. Three bedrooms meanwhile cost $1,234 per month, also down $7 from 2019 costs but up from $1,106 in 2016.
The total amount of secondary suites also increased in Nelson last year.
There were 565 such suites reported in 2020, up from 533 in 2019 and 458 in 2016.
Of those, 470 are set aside for long-term rentals, 73 have waivers that exclude rentals, and 22 are for short-term rental.
Meanwhile, there are long waitlists for affordable housing in Nelson.
The report shows 263 applications for just 47 units at Lakeside Place, an affordable housing building for seniors on Nelson Avenue scheduled to be completed later this year.
Anderson Gardens, which has 33 units for seniors, people with disabilities and those experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, has 138 waitlist applicants. Ward Street Place, which offers 44 units for single adults, has 59 people waiting to move in.
Co-ordinated Access Hub
Andree Patenaude hopes her new office in Nelson becomes a gathering place for those in need.
Patenaude, the Reaching Home program manager, is in charge of the Co-ordinated Access Hub, which opened last month in the former Nelson CARES office at 521 Vernon St.
The hub provides low-barrier services in an open space. Patenaude said visitors can visit, take advantage of the air conditioning, get a snack and relax.
But the federally funded pilot project is also home to services such as housing assistance and connections to health-care providers under one roof.
“The purpose of the site is for people to be able to not have to jump through a bunch of hoops in order to receive the services that they need right now,” said Patenaude.
The report highlights a growing need for those services.
From April 2020 to March 2021, 92 people stayed at Stepping Stones shelter, while 128 people accessed a pandemic-safe warming centre set up from November to March 2021.
At the Aimee Beaulieu Transition House, there were 1,251 bed stays in 2020. Of those, 820 were used by 37 women and 431 were accounted for by 10 children.
Local food banks were also busy, with 11,806 visits last year and 19,295 meals served.
The Co-ordinated Access Hub doesn’t provide housing, but Patenaude said she wants it to become a place where visitors feel welcomed, heard and find some assistance.
“My vision is to build a community space where people feel like they’re not being stigmatized, and there’s some ownership over a space that is their own,” she said.
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