Funding shortfall jeapordizes Grands Forks emergency shelter

The Boundary Emergency and Transition Housing Society's (BETHS) shelter is at risk.

An anticipated funding shortfall could put the Boundary Emergency and Transition Housing Society’s (BETHS) cold weather shelter plans in jeopardy this season.

The society, which relies on yearly funding from BC Housing, received full funding last year, and BETHS chair Jim Harrison said the funding decrease is due to numbers and finances.

“The basic funding climate in B.C. right now is one major issue,” Harrison explained. “The other issue is cost-effectiveness. BC Housing, like every other government agency, is under the gun to be accountable that they’re being cost effective. That’s one of the main reasons we’re facing this.”

BC Housing said it reviewed occupancy rates at the shelter and the beds were rarely full—it said BETHS shelter was never at capacity during the 151 nights it was open and overall occupancy for the winter was just over eight per cent.

The 2012/13 funding allowed BETHS to employ four people full-time but due to the expected shortfall that will decrease.

“What they (BC Housing) have suggested to us this year, at the very most, we may be able to employ one person full time,” explained Harrison. “It basically represents a 75 per cent decrease in our funding.”

He said a cut in funding was anticipated by BETHS board but the full extent of how much is not yet known, as BC Housing has not confirmed BETHS’ budget proposal for the coming year.

“We knew it was going to be drastic but we didn’t realize it was going to be as drastic as it is,” Harrison said. “We’re talking about a 75 per cent reduction and that’s based on if (BC Housing) accepts the proposal that we’ve put in – it might be even more.”

Harrison said closing the extreme weather shelter for the year was a consideration but the board was unwilling to do that and an alternative solution was decided on, which will rely heavily on volunteers.

“Because our funding has been cut back, we are in need of volunteers – we need one to two volunteers every night to join the one paid staff member,” explained BETHS’ volunteer co-ordinator Tracey Garvin.

“Our need is for 15 to 20 volunteers who will commit to two nights a month for the five months the shelter is open (Nov. 1 to March 31).”

While the shortfall will hamper BETHS, vice-chair Gene Robert said the contingency plan will fall in line nicely with one of the society’s 2013/14 objectives.

“The plea is out there for volunteers. That was one of the goals the board wanted to do this year with our AGM, is to build up our society; build up the base. This is working beautifully with what we (talked about) at the AGM,” Robert explained.

The shelter moving from the Grand Forks Christian Centre to a new location on Riverside Drive should increase people using the shelter according to Harrison, which would bode well for funding the following year.

“For one thing, we’re offering more services at that location, services that we weren’t able to provide in the past at the Christian Centre. Also dedicated sleeping rooms, which were not part of the Christian Centre chapel,” Harrison explained, adding that a survey BETHS did revealed some homeless people chose not to use the shelter last year because it was a church.

Anyone interested in volunteering can call 442-5707 or 442-3092.

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