A recent statistics report showed a 431 per cent increase in sobering shelter stays and a 63 per cent increase in meals from 2014-2017 for Mount Waddington region, but Salvation Army has the explanation for those statistics.
Michael Winter, Community Ministries Supervisor at the Lighthouse Resource Centre, said that one reason for increases in shelter stays over the years may be that Salvation Army extended it year long. The shelter originally was open during the extreme weather months from November to March.
He explained that in April 2016, Salvation Army extended accessibility for the sobering and assessment overnight program for every day of the year, rather than the five-month span. “When it was still running seasonally, (statistics) went up,” he added. “There are so many different factors.” The sobering centre numbers also fluctuated up and down for the monthly reports.
He pointed out that individuals who check into the sobering centre may leave the same day, which opens spots for another individual. However, people who leave are still counted in reports, despite not using the shelter overnight. The sobering centre also could go over capacity, but that may not mean the beds are fully utilized.
“There is a large street-entrenched population. There’s a huge population with no fixed address. Our shelter’s been running for the last ten years,” Winter noted. He also mentioned that locals who go to the centre may feel safer using the services and the stigma around using those services has dropped, which may be another reason numbers have increased.
“BC Ambulance protocol has changed in the community,” Winter said during an in-person interview. He pointed out RCMP protocol has changed as well. Initially, RCMP or paramedics had to follow protocol and take intoxicated individuals to a hospital or to the local detachment. Now, responders refer individuals under the influence to the sobering centre.
As for why the meal numbers have increased, Winter noted that “the economy plays a factor.”
“When we began, we’re serving the marginalized, street-entrenched, or people dealing with heavy addiction or mental health barriers. Those are the predominant people that we were serving,” he said, “As things progressed that is not who we’re serving. We’re serving the general public.”
“Now we’re serving seniors, youth, young families, the working poor, and the people who live pay cheque to pay cheque who live just under the poverty line. It’s not just a marginalized demographic, it’s actually the general population now.”
He also added the centre recently started a breakfast program, which offers more meals to the public.