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 strengths. Provincial and federal funding has supported the vision of the Task Force, however, we believe each community needs to take responsibility for finding 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 of receiving further funding as it becomes available.
What can I do to help?
Services and support for the homeless in our region are provided by organizations and service providers like the Task Force partners. The Salvation Army operates the local food bank and soup kitchen and Manna Homeless Society offers emergency supplies to people experiencing homelessness in the area. If you would like to help, most organizations accept donations and here is a list of specific supplies needed.
Why should Oceanside address homelessness?
Oceanside is an area of 700 km2 with a population of about 50,000. Point-in-time counts indicate about 70 individuals are experiencing homelessness; though some local service providers estimate there are several times this amount.
The region has had one of the lowest vacancy rates in the province for over a decade. A vacancy rate below 1% and rent averaging more than $900 per month affect the community as a whole, particularly low-income seniors, minimum wage earners, single parents, women escaping violence and people with disabilities or mental health issues.
More than 50% of renters in Oceanside are affected by the lack of affordable housing, but less than 1% of residents are on income assistance. Oceanside has one of the most senior populations in Canada, of whom 11% are low income. In 2018, 13% of local households were below the Low Income Cut Off (LICO) which was $20,301 before tax for individuals or $37,722 for a family of four.
Oceanside has minimal government services, no social assistance office, limited public transportation and limited health services compared to other similar size communities.
What does it mean to be homeless?
While the experience of not having a home varies for everyone, some common examples include:
- Walking long distances for every meal.
- Having little to no privacy.
- Never feeling secure and often having everything you own stolen or destroyed.
- Needing to hide your living space.
- Moving every couple of months, weeks, or even days so you don’t get discovered by authorities or random people.
- Being forced into proximity with people dealing with their own traumas who may do unpredictable or dangerous things.
- Dealing with people who are addicted and/or mentally ill.
- Being separated from your children, loved ones and support system.
- Regularly being asked by authorities for your ID documents, being questioned about your activities and asked to not be in certain areas.
- Receiving rejection and hostility from many people.
- Constantly struggling to get off the street.
- Constantly worrying about meeting your most basic needs.
- Constantly feeling hopeless.
What is the economic cost of homelessness?
Many studies have tried to quantify the cost of homelessness in Canada. In addition to shelter, costs include interactions with authorities and courts, ambulance rides and stays in hospital, jail and prison. Because these costs are difficult to track on a per person basis, calculations vary from $55,000 to $134,000 per person annually. Some studies have found the highest consumers of those services can reach $560,000 per year.
Those studies broke down the cost for providing housing and support to those same people. Again, depending on the study, the costs varied from $10,000 to $37,000 per person per year. That means – the highest cost for housing and support was less than the lowest cost of maintaining the current system by doing nothing. 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. A record high portion of the Oceanside population (over 30%) are seniors, with many living on a fixed income. About 54% of renters pay more than 30% of their income on housing. Communities without access to affordable housing may find young families moving away and difficulty finding people able to work for low service industry wages. This results in businesses not being able to meet customer’s needs.
Affordable housing affects all aspects of a community, but it is just one aspect of solving homelessness.
What services are available in the Oceanside area?
The Oceanside area has a Homeless Outreach Support Team (HOST), a 52 unit supportive housing development called Orca Place, one subsidized housing building for families and two subsidized housing units for seniors with hundreds of people on wait lists.
What are the next steps for the Task Force?
The Task Force continues to work to maintain an Emergency Shelter and move towards a year-round shelter and low income housing. It focuses on the most vulnerable local residents dealing with mental and/or physical health issues, addiction, trauma and other factors that make it hard to maintain stable housing.
What about other communities?
Nanaimo: The majority of health and government services are in nearby Nanaimo, a city with a metro population of about 100,000. In Nanaimo there is a men’s shelter with 20 year-round shelter beds, a women’s shelter with 20 year-round beds and two cold weather shelters, usually open from November 1 to March 31 with 59 beds available to men and women.
Check this Regional District of Nanaimo list for shelters in Nanaimo.
Nanaimo has supported the development of six buildings to be developed for supportive housing throughout the city; each housing 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 hub for the Cowichan Valley’s 84,000 people. Warmland House was built to address their most vulnerable population, operating 24 apartments, 30 shelter beds for men and women, and an extreme weather shelter as needed. Warmland also provides a drop-in space, showers, offices and support workers.
Port Alberni: is west of Oceanside with a population of 25,000. There is one shelter, which provides 12 year-round shelter beds for men and women, 30 transitional/supportive housing beds, as well as additional extreme weather shelter if needed. Island Health funds an Assertive Community Treatment team. There are also three buildings, which provide supportive housing with a total of 74 units. 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, 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 per 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 38,000. There is a year-round shelter, an extreme weather shelter, 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.
Myths and Facts about Homelessness
* From Homeless Hub
There are many myths and stereotypes that people believe about homelessness. This misinformation is problematic, as it further contributes to the stigmatization of a population that is already marginalized. In order to appropriately tackle the issue of homelessness and create a society where individuals feel comfortable accessing supports, these myths must be deconstructed and understood to be false by the general public.
Below are six of the many misconceptions about homelessness, compared to the realities for people who are experiencing homelessness.
1. Myth: People choose to be homeless.
Fact: A variety of different factors can contribute to an individual’s experience of homelessness. Often, people experience homelessness when all other options have been exhausted, and/or they are dealing with circumstances that make it difficult to maintain housing. Some of the obstacles that may lead people to their experiences of homelessness include:
- The affordable housing crisis
- Coping with mental illnesses or addictions, which makes it difficult to maintain independent housing
2. Myth: People experiencing homelessness are lazy.
Fact: In order to survive, many people who experience homelessness are constantly in search for the necessities of life, such as food, shelter and a source of income. Therefore, due to the barriers that they face, many people experiencing homelessness do not have the option of being stagnant or lazy. For example, searching for a job becomes even more challenging when an individual does not have access to a phone, computer, or fixed address on a regular basis.
3. Myth: All people who experience homelessness are addicts.
Fact: Many people who experience homelessness do not struggle with substance abuse problems or addictions. Just like in the general population, only a percentage of those who are experiencing homelessness deal with addictions. People experiencing homelessness may deal with other issues related to their experiences of homelessness, including trauma and mental illness, for example.
4.Myth: People experiencing homelessness should just find a job.
Fact: There are already people experiencing homelessness who are employed; however, it is much more difficult to find a job while experiencing homelessness. A number of different challenges, such as: lacking a permanent address, not having regular access to showers, barriers to transportation, and other difficulties like mental illness, make it difficult to obtain employment. Even when individuals experiencing homelessness find jobs, they are often part-time or minimum wage positions. This work fails to adequately meet their needs, due to expensive housing costs.
5. Myth: There are plenty of adequate services and supports to help those experiencing homelessness.
Fact: Many of the solutions and supports for homelessness have focused on emergency services, such as shelters and food banks. For individuals who are trying to escape a cycle of poverty and homelessness, emergency services alone are not adequate. There is a need to focus on the larger systemic factors, including the lack of affordable housing and the criminalization of homelessness that prevent people from obtaining permanent and suitable shelter.
6. Myth: Property values will go down if we let homeless shelters into our neighbourhoods.
Fact: Downtown Toronto, Canada is a concentrated area with supports and services for people experiencing homelessness. Despite the large numbers of people who go into the downtown core to access these services, housing prices remain high and there is no evidence to support this myth. This common misperception and attitude is referred to as “Not in My Backyard” (NIMBY) and can have detrimental effects for people who need to access services in different neighbourhoods.
Overall, the myths that exist about homelessness are generalizations of a more complicated reality. It is important for those who have never experienced homelessness before to understand that every homeless individual faces a different and complex set of circumstances. It is the responsibility of the general public to educate themselves about issues related to homelessness. This will hopefully result in sensitive and compassionate conversations and solutions to homelessness.