As temperatures start to drop and the holiday season approaches, Greater Victoria’s homelessness crisis is at the forefront of our minds.
While poverty and homelessness have been an on-going concern in our region for some time, recent reports have highlighted just how serious the problem continues to be.
There has been noticeable improvements thanks to programs put in place by dedicated organizations across our community, however, more still needs to be done. Dedicating their time and resources to improving the lives of those in need, these groups need our ongoing support to reach their ultimate goal: ending homelessness in Greater Victoria.
Throughout December I will be posting a series on poverty and homelessness in our region. The purpose of this blog is to help increase awareness and to offer action items that we as individuals can take to support local organizations in their work to address poverty and homelessness.
To understand just how prevalent homelessness is, last February the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness undertook their 4th annual point-in-time Facility Count. The purpose of the study was to get a sense of how many people are homeless and using supportive facilities. They counted 1,167 individuals in need of shelter on just one night, including 70 families and a total of 116 children.
While these numbers are startling, what is worse is that they only represent a portion of the people in need. Point-in-time counts are one-day counts and therefore can only provide an estimate of the number of individuals experiencing homelessness on a given day. These numbers fluctuate from day-to-day and do not take into account those who sleep outside, couch-surf, or live in overcrowded or inadequate accommodation, resulting in an underestimation of the number of people in need.
In fact, measuring the exact extent of homelessness is extremely difficult.
What we do know is that from April 2012 to March 2013, 1,659 unique individuals made use of an emergency shelter bed in five of six emergency shelters in Greater Victoria, resulting in an over-occupancy rate of 112%. Meanwhile many more are at-risk of homelessness with almost a third of renter households in “core housing need”, meaning more than 30% of their income is spent on housing, and a tenth in “severe housing need”, spending more than 50% of their income on housing.
The situation is just as severe across BC and throughout Canada. As of March 2013, 1,477 households in our province were on the wait-list for BC Housing and, according to Food Banks Canada, at least 20,524 individuals accessed food banks in one month alone in 2012.
The need for action is clear and there are a number of local organizations providing invaluable services to those experiencing poverty and homelessness.
They have been making significant progress – but they need your help.
While these service providers are doing all that they can to provide support to those in need, there exists a significant shortfall in the amount of resources available to assist them in their work. These shortfalls can be seen in local emergency shelters, which consistently operate at over capacity and turn individuals away on a nightly basis, as well as in the increasing strain placed on outreach programs such as at Our Place, where demand for services has hit record numbers.
Each week during this series, the post will end by identifying one tangible action you can take to help address homelessness in your community. The purpose of these action items is to provide you with suggestions for simple ways in which you can give back and make a difference in someone’s life.
This week’s action item aims to help provide the countless service providers across Greater Victoria with the support they need to continue offering support to those in need. Through food and clothing contributions, monetary donations and volunteer help, these organizations are able to provide the services that they offer because of the generosity and support of people like you.
Every donation that they receive – no matter the size, extent, or capacity – and every volunteer that walks through their doors, has an immeasurable impact on someone’s life.
Here are a few examples of organizations in Victoria that you can reach out to if you would like to make a donation or volunteer your time:
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