Squamish is currently facing unique challenges in its history. To best support vulnerable populations in Squamish, we need to know the specific challenges individuals face in this region.
This past spring, we interviewed twelve service providers while conducting research for a Needs Assessment. Those interviewed represented local community organizations, First Nations, and other service providers, over half of whom have been in their position for five years or longer. From these interviews we identified five major challenges to accessing housing and employment in the Squamish Region.
1. High Cost of Living
Squamish is a desirable place to live, but many residents are not only unable to enjoy the opportunities of this recreational hub; they are struggling to survive. The word survival came up again and again in interviews.
This high cost environment forces folks to take “survival jobs” rather than focusing on building skills and careers. Youth workers are also seeing young people increasingly taking jobs not just for spending money, but to help their families pay for rent.
2. Housing Crisis
In November 2016 Squamish was reported to have the lowest vacancy rate in the province at zero percent. Because landlords can now ask a higher price and screen applicants harder, there are fewer places for people with low income to find housing. Many people are finding themselves in precarious housing and needing to access shelters and transition houses. Demand for these services has increased dramatically in the past three years.
– Full nights at Pearl’s Place Transition House more than doubled from 2014 to 2015.
– The nights that the Helping Hands Shelter was full in the same time period increased from 8 to 56 – an increase of 600%.
3. Lack of Resources
A further barrier exists when it comes to learning skills to improve employment situations and raise income levels. There are limited opportunities for individuals to access training locally. For a Squamish resident, almost all training opportunities must be accessed either online or by commuting to Vancouver or Whistler.
4. Shame/ Stigma
A dominant theme from the interviews was the recognition of feelings of shame and stigma. Shame can be pervasive for someone who is challenged with low income, homelessness, addiction, abuse, or transitioning out of prison. People that face these barriers to employment and/or housing can internalize how others have treated them, or how the system has let them down, as something that is wrong with them.
People who struggle with mental illnesses, disabilities, addictions, and impacts from trauma can feel reluctance asking for help due to stigma. This feeds a fear of disclosure, which can keep folks from accessing the support they require, and causes further isolation. For some, asking for help has not resulted in appropriate support and instead causes re-traumatization. Many resist committing to programs because they fear they will be kicked out if they have an ‘episode’ and have to leave.
In our conversations, cycles were mentioned frequently. Interviewees commented on the difficulty for clients to heal and develop healthy habits without having somewhere safe they can call their own. Some places of work can be triggers for folks struggling with addictions, especially under stressful conditions and low pay. When employment pay doesn’t meet living needs, a stage is set for individuals to fall back into crisis.
Cycles are difficult to break out of due to the lack of options and resources. Once a cycle becomes predictable, it feels inevitable; it is hard for a person to conceive that an alternative is possible. It takes intervention with real supports, sometimes repeatedly, for a cycle to begin to change.
Cutting Barriers aims to contribute to breaking these cycles by focusing on small module skills training that builds confidence, skills, and employability. We want to make skills training accessible and relevant to individuals with barriers to employment in a local, supportive, and familiar environment.
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