Friendship Centre hopes to open homeless shelter this winter

The Lillooet Friendship Centre Society (LFCS) says it hopes to open and operate a Homeless Shelter this winter despite a lack of support from some community organizations, including the District of Lillooet, and despite cumbersome regulations.

“We at the Lillooet Friendship Centre are concerned about our vulnerable people within the community and want to do something to support the need and found that if we wanted to provide safe, warm and adequate shelter to homeless people in extreme weather conditions, we would have to set it up in our main office building at 357 Main Street,” the Friendship Centre said in a Dec. 1 statement. “It is for this reason that we hope to open the shelter at 8 p.m. daily. This will require that cots are put up every evening and taken down by start of regular business hours at 8 a.m. This does not mean the people staying at the shelter need to leave as they are welcome to stay at the Centre but they cannot sleep or access shelter supplies during the day. The Friendship Centre will provide coffee, tea and toast in the morning to the shelter residents but they will not be providing lunch or dinners to residents.”

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The Centre says Sekw’el’was (Cayoose Creek Band) has committed to making a “generous contribution” to the Friendship Centre which will assist the centre in meeting some of the community’s shelter needs.

Its Dec. 1 statement added, “We continue to look for volunteers to fill the  day and night time shifts as well as Christmas holidays shifts as we cannot open the shelter until we can guarantee the shelter has someone monitoring it at all times while it is open.  We will do our part, hoping that others will do theirs as well.”

The statement continues, “By the Friendship Centre doing this we are taking the responsibility off of other community services and resources and the municipality. Over the past year we have requested letters of support for funding applications to  support our programs, services and building upgrades; these support letters have not been forthcoming from the community.” 

The Centre’s statement explained that opening the Homeless Shelter is dependent on an

Extreme Weather Alert being issued by a Community Designate as required by the BC Housing Assistance to Shelter Act (SBC 2009)  Chapter 32.  This Act requires a Community Designate who has been identified in an Extreme Weather Response Plan to issue an extreme weather alert once the Minister of Lands, Parks and Housing Act has issued the official extreme weather alert.

Lillooet Friendship Centre Society Executive Director Carol Camille told the News that the Extreme Weather Shelter cannot be located in the Friendship Centre’s large Community Cares building (where it was last year)  at 76 -5th Ave. because of  “reasons beyond the Lillooet Friendship Centre’s control.”

She said using the Community Cares building last year enabled the centre to accommodate homeless people’s urgent and basic needs.”

In February 2017, the Lillooet Friendship Centre initiated renovations to their Community Cares Building. In September 2017 the Friendship Centre was given occupancy of the building with an inspection report from the District of Lillooet.

However, the inspection report stated that residential occupancy was not permitted at this time in the Community Cares building. 

The Friendship Centre states, “We have taken out a second building permit addressing the needs of the building and upgrading it to bring it in line with the current BC Building Code Standards. We continue to work on completing all upgrades but are unable to realize this goal at the current time. This impacted the Friendship Centre Society’s ability to commit to opening a Homeless Shelter at the start of this year’s extreme weather and the issuance of the Extreme Weather Alert by the Minister of BC Housing that was issued for Nov. 1, 2017.”

The Friendship Centre Society says it explored other possible options including contacting local churches and other organizations to see if they would consider providing space for the shelter but “so far no one else has come forward…The need for a shelter does not just go away because no one wants the responsibility.”

In spite of funding cuts and stalled negotiations outside of its control, the Lillooet Friendship Centre Society says it “continues to work around the barriers” to address the needs of the community, so that the gaps can be filled.

“The devoted staff at the Friendship Centre work off the corner of their desks to ensure that needed services are provided to clients, especially the most vulnerable at risk community members,” its statement noted. The Centre says it continues to host events “to bring the community together as one.”

Executive Director Carol Camille told the News she was “dismayed” to read in the News that Mayor Marg Lampman’s only response to a question about a homeless shelter was the mayor’s comment that the Friendship Centre provided a shelter last year.

“Yes LFCS did… and that in reference to the using the Rec Centre, the mayor’s reply was ‘that would not be appropriate here.’”

Camille said she “agrees homelessness is not appropriate anywhere, and needs to be addressed by everyone. Don’t pass the responsibility on – be accountable!

Camille continued, “Considering the mayor’s  response is acknowledging that LFCS offers these types of services to the community, I was surprised when the Lillooet Friendship Centre applied to the District of Lillooet for a Permissive Tax Exemption for the Community Cares Building and the District chose to deny our application.:

She cited the District’s own Application for Permissive Tax Exemption document. It  states, “Council considers Permissive Tax Exemptions for non-profit organizations that contribute to the well-being of District residents  and that make improvements to the quality of life for residents and/or are an extension of District services.”

LFCS says it is currently looking for ways to meet its financial obligations without negatively impacting its current programs and services, while still assuming the responsibility of providing un-funded services such as an extreme weather shelter for the homeless population within the District of Lillooet.

“Lillooet Friendship Centre is open to any discussion that will provide solutions to address the many needs of the vulnerable population of our community and to work with our partners in the community to ensure we have a safe supportive community,” its Dec. 1 statement concludes.

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