'Fentanyl, it’s destroying everybody': Homeless crisis grows in Chilliwack
On the streets of Chilliwack, there are more homeless people than ever before, and some of them are barely teenagers.
“The youngest I saw was just the other day, she was 13,” said Bryn Troman, who works at Ruth & Naomi’s Mission.
“Fortunately, she did just get placement,” Troman explained.
Though numbers from a recent homeless count have not yet been released, it’s estimated there are about 500 unsheltered people in the community. That’s a jump of roughly 60 per cent since 2020.
“We have more seniors accessing our shelter services, we have people who access our shelter services who get up every morning, head off to work, come back here at the end of the day and they live in the shelter so they can have an affordable place to live,” said Scott Gaglardi, the executive director of Ruth & Naomi’s Mission.
Every day, the shelter serves about 380 meals, mostly to people who are homeless, but also those struggling to make ends meet.
“A week ago, we were serving dinner here, a single mom with two twins in her stroller came in and they’re accessing our food program…just to offset their costs,” he explained.
Some people who use services at Ruth & Naomi’s also battle addiction, including William Oickle.
“Fentanyl, it’s destroying everybody,” he said. “I wouldn’t be homeless if I never did fentanyl.”
But he told CTV News that he is attending a program through the Mission to help him beat his addiction.
“Places like this save lives. If it wasn’t for places like this, there’d be a lot more people dying out here,” he said.
Oickle explained that he had been living in a tent before coming to the Mission.
“A lot of nights it got really cold, windy,” he explained.
David Sheldon, who used to be a truck driver, said he also uses opioids and is homeless.
“It robs you of your dignity, that’s for sure,” he said.
Gaglardi said shelter beds are always full and what’s really needed is more affordable housing.
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said the province is trying to respond to what he calls a “challenging” situation.
“We have, in fact, in Chilliwack, more units opening up. We had some units that just opened and we have more coming on line. We have partnerships with local first nations to get housing built on reserve as well,” he said.
Oickle, 39, said one of the toughest things about being homeless is the way people look at him when they walk by.
“It makes you feel unwanted and unloved,” he said.
“Everybody in this world deserves empathy and love and kindness,” said Troman.
She said she understands the struggles many clients are facing because of a personal loss.
“I had a foster brother who passed away from an overdose,” she explained.
Troman said a couple nights ago, there were three overdoses at the shelter.
She’s only been working at the Mission a few months, but said she knows her work is making a difference.
“We had a young gentleman overdose and I did CPR on him for 10 minutes and it was exhausting. But seeing that pulse come and watching him take that first breath after doing all those chest compressions was so relieving,” she said.
“Had a good cry after that,” she said.
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