Residents in the Peace are struggling with inflation – food prices, fuel, rent and mortgage increases and more – as the Fort St. John Salvation Army starts its 2023 Christmas kettle campaign.

The organization operates at a few locations in Fort St. John – running a food bank, a thrift store, and transitional housing at the Northern Centre of Hope. Forty residents are supported through transitional housing and 32 tenants live in supportive housing at the centre. 

Inflation and rising food costs have been a notable challenge in the past year, says Executive Director Jared Braun, in addition to rising fuel costs at the pump, mortgage increases, rent increases, and more. 

“Most of us have struggled this last year, in particular with the economic challenges that have really begun to build,” Braun told Fort St. John council during its Monday meeting. “And we’ve all gone to the grocery store, ran our groceries through the till and cringed a little bit at the end with the little bit we’ve got and how much it has cost us.”

Food Banks Canada noted just under two million visits to food banks across the country since March 2023, explained Braun, with 3,000 registered food bank clients in Fort St. John, 400 of them being new applicants. That translates to 40 to 60 visits a day.  

A homeless count was held this year in Fort St. John, with 102 people reporting homelessness, a jump from the 2020 count of 76. Those experiencing homeless are locals, not transplants from other communities, Braun noted. 

“The reality is that our community does require additional housing support and we’re grateful for BC Housing pursuing a plan with either a new or existing operator in the community to complement what we are already doing,” said Braun. 

Not enough income, substance use issues, conflict with spouse or partner, and mental health issues were all cited as reasons contributing to housing loss, and 85 percent of the 102 homeless individuals are adults between the ages of 25 to 54. Thirteen percent were seniors and two percent were youth. 

“We have faced the consequences regularly of the raging drug epidemic, which has claimed many lives, including several people that we have been close to,” said Braun. “There’s also the mental health dilemma, with more and more individuals suffering from trauma, depression, anxiety, than ever before.” 

Despite these challenges, their mission to be a positive and transformative influence in the community hasn’t changed.

Over 230,000 pounds of food has been distributed to residents in need over the past nine months, providing $12,000 in emergency supports, in addition to running cooking classes and a food recovery program. 

Roughly 200,000 pounds in textiles have been diverted from the landfill through their thrift store, and the store generated $300,000 in revenue this past year, which is used to fund their social programs.

By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Nov 29, 2023 at 17:27

This item reprinted with permission from   Alaska Highway News   Fort St. John, British Columbia

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