Cold snap fuels crisis

With colder temperatures agencies providing emergency food and shelter face increased demands

Princeton's first freeze enhanced the beauty of the valley

The recent and sudden drop in temperatures has left some Princeton residents – literally – out in the cold, while social service agencies say they are scrambling to meet a growing need with limited resources.

Princeton Crisis Assistance responded to 12 requests for help in the last week. Board director Rayleen Brewer, who also runs the Crisis Assistance Thrift Store, told the Spotlight homelessness is a more pressing concern during winter months, and there are some people in Princeton who already cannot pay their heating bills.

“I’ve got two or three clients right now who have no heat in their homes,” she said.

Crisis Assistance provides emergency shelter and food for those in need.

“I just had an emergency where a lady’s house was condemned for gas poisoning. She came in and we put them up in a motel for the weekend,” said Brewer.

The program’s budget doesn’t extend to more than a two night stay, so Brewer then put the woman in touch with the Ombudsman’s office to assist her in getting help from her landlord, and directed her to local churches for more assistance.

“We just had another young guy in here, homeless. He was 17 and we couldn’t put him in a motel because he wasn’t 18,” she said. “He was leaving an abusive home…the ministry basically told him they couldn’t do anything for him until Monday.”

The young man was provided shelter in a private home for the weekend, and then sent to Penticton where he will be placed in a group home.

“The hardest part is I can’t completely help them no matter what. We put a band aid on it.”

Princeton Crisis Assistance is funded entirely by proceeds from its Thrift Store on Vermilion Avenue, and donations from the community and local businesses. Valley First Credit Union is a major supporter of the program, making several cash donations each year from various fundraisers, and last year Copper Mountain Mine played Santa by paying off the program’s bills at the end of the year.

“The more money we have the more money we can put out to other people,” said Brewer.

She said in addition to paying for food and shelter, the program’s expenses include $425 per month in rent to the Town of Princeton, which owns the Thrift Store building. Another $200 per month in rent is paid to St. Paul’s United Church for a room to house the food cupboard.

Brewer is not aware at this time of anyone living on the streets of Princeton or in a car. “I’ve never seen it personally. I’ve never had anyone come into the store and say that,” she said.

“They are not living on the street per say but couch surfing, getting kicked out, that seems to be what I see the most.”

During summer months Princeton sees more people “on the streets” because of transients associated with fruit orchards in nearby communities. “Some people live in their tents,” she said.

Business is also booming for Princeton’s Cindy Parolin Safe House, the women’s shelter operated by the Family Services Centre.  Manager Dani Grothe said that while the centre’s mandate is to provide emergency housing for women and children who are leaving unsafe domestic situations, she is fielding an increasing number of calls from clients who simply have no place to live.

“It’s added pressure because we only have so much funding and trying to help people that don’t have a place to go – it’s not what we do but how do you turn someone away?”

Brewer and Grothe agree the town needs a homeless shelter and Brewer said that issue will be discussed at an upcoming meeting of local social service agencies.

Al Kovaltsenko, who operates Shining His Light Ministries and is a former manager of the Princeton Crisis Assistance, recently opened a second food bank in town to assist the needy.

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have prices going up left, right and centre and all these programs are being cut by the government.”

Princeton CAO Rick Zerr said in an interview that homelessness is not a large problem in Princeton. “We have very few that I know of, or that we know of in the hall.”

According to Zerr people in need of assistance can visit the Service BC office in Princeton Plaza on Tapton Avenue, where they will be given vouchers and directed to the social services to make an application for social assistance.

Zerr said “municipalities aren’t really involved in those kinds of services…but we’d never leave anybody high and dry.”

He added that people who may be considered homeless often have options. “It’s not because they don’t have a place to stay, maybe it’s a place they don’t want to stay.”