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Hundreds of Princeton flood victims face homelessness if no government intervention

Province struggles with outdated legislation binding it from funding a recovery camp
Evacuees are being housed in hotels and motels, but that it set to change at the end of March. Photo Andrea DeMeer

Hundreds of Princeton flood victims face homelessness at the end of March, if there is no intervention from higher levels of government.

As the Red Cross prepares to transition its displaced clients to interim or longer-term housing, those people will literally have no place to go, according to Mayor Spencer Coyne.

“We are running out of options,” he told the Spotlight. “There is no hotel space, there are no rentals, there are no rentals anywhere around us and there is very limited hotel space around us.”

Housing studies indicate there is a zero vacancy rate in the municipality.

Boundary-Similkameen MLA Roly Russell, while admitting there is no solution to the looming crisis at this time, said he’s committed to making sure flood victims will have some place to live.

“I’m not in a position to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but there is certainly a lot of energy focused on it,” he said in an interview last week.

In December, the Town of Princeton requested funding from the province for a temporary housing camp, 100 self-contained units to be placed in the industrial park.

Those funds didn’t come through, and it’s a consequence of antiquated and restrictive legislation, according to Russell.

“What we have inherited here for emergency response and recovery is old and outdated.”

The crux of the issue is that Emergency Management BC cannot fund recovery projects, while there is no other ministry that oversees recovery needs.

“We are working on it and trying to figure out how to accommodate the request of the town,” said Russell. “We have to be creative.”

He added the government is also reviewing emergency response policies to make improvements for future events.

“There is a genuine desire to build a better system going forward,” Russell said.

In December, the roles first performed by local Emergency Social Services (ESS) – distributing food and clothing vouchers – were transferred at the province’s request to the Canadian Red Cross.

The CRC registered 371 households, representing 618 people. Two hundred and ninety households were issued one-time $2,000 payments, benefiting 500 individuals. The CRC also overtook the arrangement and funding of temporary accommodations for evacuated residents.

Some of those people were placed in local hotels and motels, and others were sent out of the community to hotels in Penticton, Kamloops, Kelowna and the Lower Mainland.

Early in February, the CRC began informing clients it would be stepping away from providing emergency accommodations, and those arrangements handled by the agency would cease Feb. 15, according to Coyne.

The mayor learned about the plan third-hand, and organized meetings to forestall that move, securing a new deadline of March 31.

In response to an inquiry from the Spotlight the Red Cross issued a written response that stated in part:

“Broad commercial accommodations support remains available up until at least March 31, and provides individuals and families impacted by the floods with the time they need to find longer term housing options that meet their needs….

“The Red Cross will continue to provide personalized recovery supports to individuals and families, such as housing repair and reconstruction, further interim housing assistance as needed, as well as non-financial support. The Red Cross will also work with the provincial government and the Town of Princeton as they seek to secure more permanent solutions to housing challenges.”

Specific questions about how the lack of available housing in Princeton and area could impact flood victims, under the circumstances, were unanswered by Dean Pogas, director of communications for Red Cross BC and Yukon.

In a telephone interview, he directed the Spotlight back to the CRC’s written statement.

Related: ‘It’s just unbelievable’: Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth tours Princeton flood

Related: Four days after the Princeton flood, in photos: The aftermath

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Andrea DeMeer

About the Author: Andrea DeMeer

Andrea is the publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight.
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