The Sea to Sky Corridor’s only long-term women’s and children’s shelter is being forced to turn clients away.
On Sunday, Sept. 29, Pearl’s Place Transition House’s six beds were full. An employee at the Squamish safe house scrambled to find placement outside the community for a young mother and her baby who turned up at the shelter’s doors.
The Howe Sound Women’s Centre Society’s facility provides women and children throughout the corridor with a 30-day stay. In Pemberton, the society runs a 10-day facility for women impacted by abuse. But there’s no women’s shelter in Whistler, said Sheila Allen, the women’s society executive director. As a result, many women within the program get shuffled down the corridor from one safe house to the next, she said.
“I honestly feel like there is a need for a transition house in Whistler,” she said, noting taking a person out of their community puts their life on hold.
In 2006 — the opening year for the transition house — 148 women and 122 children were referred to Pearl’s Place and 29 women and 29 children accessed the program. In the first nine months of this year, the house received 142 referrals for women and 60 for children, with 44 women and 24 children having been housed at the facility.
While the shelter bursting at the seams, provincial funding for the program has been stagnant since 2007, Allen said. The society is calling on officials to pour emergency money into the shelter, increasing the bed count from six to eight. They also want to beef up the Pemberton safe home, hiring a full-time coordinator and support workers, such as clinical supervision.
“With mental health facilities closing down, there’s more and more pressure on us,” Allen added. “We are not nurses and doctors.”
Various Squamish community organizations are looking to build or expand supportive housing, including the Sea to Sky Community Services Society’s downtown Centrepoint project. There may be possibilities to partner up, but that won’t help unless there’s money to operate a new or expanded space, Allen said.
The province is constantly balancing needs and desires, West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA John Sturdy said on Tuesday (Oct. 8). The government annually hands Pearl’s Place $336,000, and $56,000 for Pemberton’s safe house, he noted.
Last year, the centre had a 35 per cent occupancy rate and was full 86 nights, Sturdy said, adding that during peak periods, the centre sometimes transfers clients to other programs. In the first quarter this year, that rate sat at 38 per cent, he added. The province funds 800 beds in both transition and safe houses, equalling $32 million in funding annually, Sturdy said.
It’s a challenge to build “brick and mortar” facilities to meet peak demand periods, he said.
“There is always demands for a variety of different services,” he said. “We do what we can to try and support these demands.”