Nelson school grapples with big city problems

Nelson school grapples with big city problems

Too many of school’s students are homeless and hungry

NELSON — There was a time when many of the issues afflicting residents here would more likely have been expected in the socially troubled parts of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

But all the big city problems can now be found in this picturesque small city in the West Kootenays — tent encampments, record-breaking drug overdose deaths, homelessness, mounting poverty and the obvious harm all this is causing children and families.

Eventually, it shows up in school.

“A lot of our kids are definitely struggling,” says Roman Wyllie, the vice principal of L.V. Rogers secondary in the north end of the city.

There has been a significant increase in the number of students coming to school hungry and needing other support such as proper winter clothing and food to take home, he said.

Staff are spending $700 a week on fruit and healthy snacks — not including the meals being provided — because there are so many students in need of food.

“We have a lot of proud kids who never had issues with food before but now we are starting to see these kids,” he said.

And there is concern that a number coming to school hungry without breakfast might not have been fed dinner the night before.

The school has a population of 650 students.

About 20 per cent of them are needing support from the school with either food, clothing or both.

And a significant number are essentially homeless, cared for in the homes of relatives or friends as emergency housing for youth in the city is filled. Wyllie said it is good these students have a roof over their heads, but the families taking them in might not have the resources to feed them if they were already being stretched financially.

“We will certainly do what we can to help students and families who are in this situation. We are grateful to families who have taken these students in.”

The school has applied to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $20,000 to help feed students during the day and provide food and grocery cards to families struggling financially with the high cost of housing and food.

The school district and the provincial feeding futures program provides $15,000 to the school for food but that’s not enough to get them through the year and AAS money is a needed supplement.

A portion of the $20,000 will also be used to supply winter clothes and boots to students who need them — items that the feeding futures grant won’t cover.

Sawmills in the area have shut down and the city has lost good paying jobs in recent years such as the 400 that vanished with the closure of the electronics company Pacific Insight in 2018.

Along with other areas of the province, the cost of rent has increased substantially along with the cost of food, forcing some families to work at two or three minimum wage jobs to cope.

This year 222 applications for help from schools have been received by The Vancouver Sun’s AAS campaign totalling $2.7 million in requests, a 22 per cent increase over last year.

One hundred per cent of donations are used to support schools; there are no administration costs deducted from donations. The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Society, which administers AAS, is a registered charity.

By Gerry Bellett (

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