The Homeless Outreach team with Sea to Sky Community Services (SSCS) wants renters in Whistler to know one thing in particular as the housing crisis lags on: there’s more help available if you reach out when you’re at risk of being evicted.
“We’re working to get the word out that people should come see us prior to being evicted — when they’re at risk of getting evicted — so that we can support them in their tenancy to maintain their housing,” said Jan Oberson, director of outreach services with SSCS. “That’s really when we’re hoping to see people. We really try to build the relationship with the tenants and landlords to prevent eviction… We can provide that insight as well as support with the tenancy branch to have conversations and educate renters and landlords on what their rights are.”
SSCS has recently started a new initiative offering drop-in consultations around homelessness and housing at the Whistler Public Library every second Monday. (The next drop-in session will be on May 8.) Kristine Reierson — who is also available by appointment — is the homeless outreach worker at the helm of that effort.
While she’s new to the position, Reierson has worked in a similar capacity in Victoria and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The big difference: in Victoria she had a roster of landlords who were willing to take harder-to-house clients. Here, it’s a bit tougher, she said.
“My biggest hurdle is getting in touch with homeowners who are willing to rent to families or singles at a rate that’s not completely gouging,” she said. “In some instances, people have moved out of the corridor. A lot of friends of mine have recently had to move. That’s really realistic right now for a lot of people.”
To that end, homelessness in the Sea to Sky corridor might also look a little different than in other communities. “Our goal is to support all people that are homeless or at risk of being homeless,” Reierson said. “This also includes the hidden homeless — people that may be couch surfing, living outdoors, in their vehicles or anyone not living in an environment where they have control over the length and condition of tenure. In the corridor the majority of homeless individuals fall into the hidden homeless category and are not as visible as they tend to be in the larger centres.”
The kind of things she’s able to help with range from getting ID or arranging social assistance to helping young people who are transitioning to adulthood and seeking housing.
Oberson said there’s another heartbreaking aspect to the housing crunch that she’s seen: women in abusive relationships are having a harder time fleeing because they have no other housing options.
“It really has an impact,” she said. “We have women’s counselling and other programs and it’s having a huge impact on women fleeing domestic violence because there’s nowhere for them to go.”
Anyone facing eviction — or any landlords who would like to rent out their suites — can contact Reierson at firstname.lastname@example.org.