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 “Just because you’re not seeing people on the streets does not mean homelessness is not there.”
Andrew Wynn-Williams, Executive Director of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness


Homelessness

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.

State of Homelessness in Greater Victoria

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.

Weekly Action Item

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:

  • Our Place Society – an inner-city community community centre serving vulnerable populations including the working poor, impoverished elderly, mentally and physically challenged, addicted and the homeless.
  • The Mustard Seed – a local non-profit organization that runs a number of programs including a drop-in centre, a clothing bank, counselling services, and the largest food bank on Vancouver Island.
  • Society of St. Vincent de Paul a charity group providing a number of services to people that fall below the poverty line, including emergency food, material support, counselling programs and low cost housing.
  • Victoria Cool Aid Society –  a charitable organization that advocates for and provides emergency shelter, supportive housing, integrated health care and other support services to those in need.
  • United Way of Greater Victoria – a registered charity funding programs and services that offer safe and stable housing, increase access to food, provide financial literacy support and offer employment training and skills development.
  • Beacon Community Services – a community-based, non-profit, social, employment, health, recreational, housing and volunteer services agency offering a range of services and programs to thousands of clients in the Capital Region.

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3 Comments

  1. Lorraine Calderwood-Parsons-
    December 4, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    I would also like to hear on these posts what governments are doing to end poverty and homelessness in our society. I understand that BC is the only province in Canada that does not have a poverty reduction plan at least in the works. While we continue acts of charity, we also have to work toward justice. Perhaps you could also post action items for the municipal, provincial and federal governments. Thank you.

    • Erin Kastner-
      December 4, 2014 at 10:49 pm

      Thank you, Lorraine. My sentiments exactly. As an NDP’er, although not in this riding, my heart sank reading that post. I feel like I give and give and give and this is the offered solution? Give more? If my MLA posted this I think I’d march down to her office and tear a strip off her. POVERTY REDUCTION PLAN with ACTIONS.

    • December 4, 2014 at 11:20 pm

      Hello Erin and Lorraine, thank you for your feedback. This is only the first of a number of posts that are scheduled to appear over the next few weeks to months. As a team, we discussed whether or not we should release a comprehensive 3,000-5,000 word essay on the topic (as I have done, for example, on Education, Mount Polley and the Alberta Tar Sands), but in the end we thought it was better to address the issue in a more systematic fashion. We will start by dealing with the issue of poverty and homelessness broadly. But as the series evolves, you will see us focus more and more on specifice solutions.

      We felt it was best to raise awareness slowly. In two weeks the discussion will start to focus of the costs of NOT addressing poverty and homelessness.

      FYI Erin, at the BoardVoice conference last year I gave a speech which you might find interesting and relevant. As you will undoubtedly agree, poverty and homelessness are non partisan issues that do not know the difference between Liberal, Conservative, NDP or Green.