Housing stresses felt at WCSS 

Society reports growth in all areas at 2016 AGM

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - STEADY GROWTH The Whistler Community Services Society saw growth in all areas in 2015. Pictured is the WCSS social service staff.
  • Photo submitted
  • STEADY GROWTH The Whistler Community Services Society saw growth in all areas in 2015. Pictured is the WCSS social service staff.

Concerns around housing in Whistler are nothing new, but if recent trends at the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) are any indication, the problem is only getting worse.

"We're seeing long-term locals, families, in a situation where they're becoming homeless in a week," said WCSS executive director Cheryl Skribe.

"We actually just had our staff meeting this morning, and I think the staff are feeling very concerned about the situation. They have voiced that concern for pretty much the last couple of years, but it's expedited to this level that we just don't know how we're going to manage it."

Not only is WCSS seeing more clients through its doors, it's also seeing more of them living out of tents than ever before.

"In good weather, that works, but in rough weather, winter weather, that doesn't work," Skribe said.

"And that's people who have full-time jobs, who just have no place to live but are really very committed to Whistler and want to make it their home."

The stress of finding housing, or of less-than-ideal living conditions, creates problems all its own, which is evident in other areas of WCSS operations.

Counselling visits to WCSS were up in 2015 — 1,949 compared to 1,782 in 2014 — with people coming in for everything from mental health issues to financial woes.

But in most cases it can be traced back to housing.

"People end up finding us here generally because of mental health issues. For whatever reason they're not thriving, and we are associating that more and more with housing... it doesn't take long for someone's performance in the rest of their life to be affected by lack of stable housing," Skribe said.

"And it doesn't matter if you've got a good job, you've got stable income. There is no supply. There's a lot of demand and no supply."

Despite the pressure on its services, WCSS has been able to weather the storm.

"We were able to circle the wagons quickly enough to be able to assess where we were at, and really take advantage of all of the skills and expertise that we had in-house," Skribe said, adding that the WCSS has now beefed up its outreach team to help carry the load. Last year, outreach staffing levels were the same as they were in 2009.

"We would like nothing better than for our services to be obsolete, and that the community didn't need us," Skribe said.

"Unfortunately, we're sort of going the opposite direction in that we're finding that the community needs us more and more."

Most businesses would be ecstatic to see the kind of growth the WCSS has seen, but it presents challenges for a charitable organization, said new chair of the WCSS board Richard Diamond.

"I think when we get the new building situated and up and running in Nesters, we'll see even more growth because we'll have such a central location at that point," Diamond said.

The new building — set to open in 2017 — will house WCSS' offices, outreach services, the food bank and Re-Use-It Centre, which saw revenue increase by 12 per cent to $937,913 in 2015. WCSS's total revenue rose to $1,357,699, up from $1,199,764 in 2014.

"Right now I think there's some challenges for people getting to our outreach building in Spring Creek," Diamond said.

"Once we're central, everybody can walk there, ride your bike there, the buses go right by, it's just more convenient for everybody."



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