Tax help available for Kamloops' homeless population

·3 min read

H&R Block and The Mustard Seed are helping Kamloops’ homeless population navigate tax season.

The fifth annual Returning Hope program launched at the Mustard Seed in Kamloops for the first time this week to assist those living below the poverty line access government benefits they wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive without filing their taxes.

The free service is being offered in 12 Canadian cities in which H&R Block tax experts support people through the tax season process. The program was supposed to launch at the Kamloops Mustard Seed last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic upended those plans.

With pandemic restrictions ongoing this year, rather than have an H&R Block employee stationed at the non-profit, packages of documents are being distributed to clients who want to file a return.

Mustard Seed managing director Kelly Thomson said his staff will be on hand to walk clients through the forms, which are then sent to H&R Block to oversee each tax filing.

“They [our clients] basically sign everything that gives the people that are going to do the tax forms the ability to what they need to do on their end,” Thomson said.

So far this week about 24 people have taken packages to fill out, he said, adding the Mustard Seed can be used as their mailing address.

“The people that live at or below the poverty line, there’s a real need to help them because without filing tax returns they miss out on government benefits, and with the pandemic this year there’s been additional benefits that have come out,” said Darryl McCaskil, H&R Block district manager for Kamloops and Prince George.

He said those missed benefits include the GST credit of approximately $400 a year paid quarterly the Canada Child Benefit, provincial sales tax credit and the Canadian Workers Benefit. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, homeless individuals can also access the $500 BC Recovery Benefit, with a tax return, McCaskil said.

The service is meant to help homeless individuals navigate hurdles — such as the lack of a fixed address, government identification or a bank account — that can hinder them from filing on their own.

“So we help them through all of that,” McCaskil said, noting they can even help receive credit for past years.

Thomson said their clientele can struggle to navigate things such as tax filings on their own and having help with it can make a real difference in their lives.

While the service was initially a one-week endeavour, McCaskil said anyone wishing to file a return through the Mustard Seed can do so at the 181 West Victoria St. location next week as well.

He said as long as the demand remains, H&R Block will continue to accept document packages from the Mustard Seed even after that.

The local non-profit organization plans to offer the service again next year.

McCaskil said he has been trying to bring the program to Kamloops for years and hopes to expand it beyond the Mustard Seed to continue helping the homeless population.

The program has run at the Mustard Seed’s other locations for the past five years.

Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kamloops This Week