Why should communities address homelessness?
Is it not the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments?
Homelessness is in every community across Canada, but every community has different challenges and different strengths. Provincial and federal funding has supported the vision of the task force. However, we believe each community needs to take responsibility for finding the solutions based on the community’s individual needs. By doing this, we can plan for sustainable, well-coordinated, long-term solutions, rather than simply reacting to crises as they arise. By demonstrating to the provincial and federal governments that we have a thoughtful, community-based plan, we greatly increase our chances to receive further funding as it becomes available.
What can I do to help?
Services and support for the homeless in our region are provided by such organizations and service providers as Island Crisis Care Society, Society of Organized Services, Forward House Community Society, Canadian Mental Health Association and our local churches. The Salvation Army operates the local food bank and Manna Homeless Society offers emergency supplies to homeless in the Oceanside region. If you would like to help, a list of needed supplies is provided here.
Why should Oceanside address homelessness?
Oceanside consists of an area of over 700km2 and a population of nearly 50,000. Point-in-time counts indicate approximately 70 individuals are facing homelessness; some service providers estimate more than two or three times this amount. This region has had one of the lowest vacancy rates in the province for the past three years. A vacancy rate of 1% and rents nearing $800 per month affects the community as a whole: low-income seniors, minimum wage earners, single parents, women escaping a violent relationship, individuals with disabilities or mental health struggles.
More than 50% of renters in Oceanside are affected by lack of affordable housing, but less than 1% of residents are on income assistance. Oceanside has one of the largest senior populations in Canada; 8% of which are low income. 12% of households in Oceanside make less than $20,000 per year. It is an area with minimal government services, no social assistance offices, limited public transportation and limited health services when compared to other communities.
So what about the other communities?
Nanaimo is closest to the Oceanside region (Parksville-Qualicum Beach) and where the majority of regional hospital visits and government services are accessed. Not surprisingly, it is more densely populated than Oceanside with a population of about 83,000. Nanaimo is able to provide a men’s shelter with 23 year-round shelter beds, a women’s shelter with 20 year round beds and a cold weather shelter which is open fulltime from November 1 to March 31 with 24 beds available to men and women.
Nanaimo has supported six buildings to be developed for supportive housing throughout the city; each building houses from 24 to 41 individuals. With funding through Island Health there is a 24 hour crisis response team, a Homeless Outreach Support Team and an Assertive Community Treatment team. In addition, there are six subsidized housing buildings and six privately operated subsidized buildings
Duncan is south of Nanaimo and with a population of 5,000, is the central hub for the Cowichan Valley. Warmland House was built to address their most vulnerable population, operating with 24 apartments, thirty shelter beds for men and women, plus additional extreme weather shelter beds during winter months if needed. Warmland also provides a drop-in space, showers, offices and support workers.
Port Alberni is west of Oceanside with an urban population of 18,000 and overall population of 25,000. There is one shelter which provides twelve year-round shelter beds for men and women, thirty transitional/supportive housing beds, as well as additional extreme weather shelter beds if needed. Island Health funds an Assertive Community Treatment team. There are also three buildings which provide supportive housing for a total of 74 apartments. In addition, there are five subsidized housing buildings and one privately operated subsidized building.
Comox Valley lies north of Oceanside with a population of about 65,000. There are year-round shelters for men and women and children. There are plans for the development of property for a supportive housing project with $50,000 provided by BC Housing. There are two subsidized housing buildings. In December 2015, the Comox Regional District voted in favour of a referendum agreeing to a new tax (approximately $6/house per year) to fund housing and support services for the homeless. As a result, there will be six additional housing units.
Campbell River lies further north with a population of 36,000. There is a year-round shelter and an extreme weather shelter and a building with 27 supportive housing units and a six-unit building for youth. As well, there are five subsidized buildings and a privately operated subsidized building. Island Health funds an Assertive Community Treatment team.
The Oceanside area has one subsidized housing building for families and two subsidized housing units for seniors with more than eighty on waitlists.
What are the next steps for the task force?
The Task Force will work to maintain an extreme weather shelter with the hope to make it a cold weather shelter. The Task Force will continue to focus on the most vulnerable residents in our community (mental illness, trauma, age, etc.) and continue to work for housing in our community.
What does it mean to be homeless?
While the experience of each homeless individual varies, here are some examples of what homelessness means to many:
- Walking miles to every meal.
- Having little or no privacy.
- Regularly being asked by the police for your identification and being questioned about your activities, at least once a week.
- Needing to hide your living space.
- Moving every couple of months so you don’t get harassed by the police or others who invade your camp.
- Hanging out with people who don’t care about you, and who do dangerous things or just act crazy.
- Dealing daily with people who are addicted and/or mentally ill.
- Being separated from your children.
- Receiving rejection and hostility from most people.
- Trying to get off the street, but haven’t been able to.
- Having your possessions stolen or ruined on a regular basis.
- Constantly wanting money for your needs, but when you get money, you use it poorly.
- Spending more time giving up than hoping.
What is the economic cost of homelessness?
There have been many studies in Canada which have tried to quantify the cost of homeless. In addition to shelter costs, these costs need to include police inter-actions, jail/prison, hospital stays, ambulance rides, and/or court costs. Because these costs are difficult to track on a per person basis, the final costs have varied from $55,000 to $134,000 per person annually. This seems like a tremendous cost to allow someone to remain homeless, but it must be cheaper than housing them.
Those same studies broke the cost down for providing housing and support to those same individuals but again depending on the study the costs varied between $10,000 to $37,000 per person annually. Comparatively, the most expensive cost to address housing and supports was still cheaper than the cheapest cost of not providing housing. Housing these individuals reduces the use of emergency services, improving the availability of service for other residents. The financial cost of housing the chronically homeless and hardest to house isn’t the only cost to a community.
In a community such as Oceanside, there are additional costs when there is a lack of affordable housing. Affordable housing affects more than the absolute homeless. Nearly half the Oceanside population is seniors, living on a fixed income and looking to enjoy retirement. Their expendable income is directly related to being able to access housing which they can afford. Nearly 54% of renters pay more than 30% of their income towards housing. Communities without access to affordable housing may find young families moving away and minimum wage earners more difficult to find. This results in coffee shops, restaurants and other services not being able to serve their customer needs.
Affordable housing affects all aspects of a community, but it is just one aspect to solving homelessness. If affects the diversity of the population, the ability to hire employees, and overall vibrancy and health of the community.