Funding from BC Housing to assist the homeless population in the Cowichan region during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has come through.
BC Housing has announced it will provide $172,000 to support phase one of a plan developed by the COVID-19 Vulnerable Population Cowichan Task Force to create temporary accommodations for the homeless in the Valley.
As well, the Rapid Relief Fund, organized by the Victoria Foundation, Jawl Foundation and Times Colonist, is providing an additional $220,000 for the plan.
Medium-term and longer-term plans, including a post-COVID-19 transition plan, are also under development.
John Horn, executive director for the Cowichan Housing Association and chairman of the task force, said phase one of the plan proposes that local homeless people be housed in a variety of ways, including, small-scale, “family-cluster” serviced outdoor tenting sites housing up to, and no more than, 12 people per site.
He said none of these will be located in any parks or public green spaces.
The funding from the Rapid Relief Fund has also enabled the task force to include hotel rooms, and additional funding for outreach workers, food and security.
“While the original plan had included and favoured indoor sites, local service providers are not able to provide the level of staffing required due to the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce,” Horn said.
“Support services that include peer supports, site maintenance and cleaning, shower facilities, laundry services, security, portable washrooms and hand-washing stations will be provided. This supports the provincial mandate to provide ‘shelter-in-place’ options in order to adhere to social-distancing guidelines and keep people safe.”
Horn said the set up of the sites for the homeless will begin immediately, and phase one of the plan will be funded until June 30.
Last week, the federal government also announced it will be providing significant funding to address homelessness in the Cowichan Valley for the longer term, until 2024.
Ottawa has designated the Cowichan Valley as one of the six new communities selected to receive funding of $291,450 in 2020-21 and $463,953 per year until 2023-2024, to prevent and reduce homelessness under the Designated Communities stream of Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy.
Michelle Staples, mayor of the City of Duncan, which was asked by BC Housing to establish the COVID-19 Vulnerable Population Cowichan Task Force, said task force members, which include service organizations, Island Health, local governments, First Nations, the school district, health care professionals, community members, and peer representatives, are grateful for the support of the Victoria Foundation, The Jawl Foundation, Times Colonist, and BC Housing.
“Throughout this process, the task force has been thoughtful to not lose sight of what happens after June 30, and from the start included phase-two planning to work with the provincial and federal governments to provide permanent and supported housing options for people to transition out of hotels and tenting sites,” she said.
Task force member and North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said a recent homeless survey indicated that there are currently about 140 people in the Valley without access to shelter, and while tenting sites may not be ideal, it’s a step in the right direction for the area’s vulnerable residents.
“I am very happy to see this initiative move forward,” Siebring said.
“At this time, I’m not sure what additional supports and wrap-around services will look like. I have always been committed to having these as part of the solution to the many crises we are facing, but this is a great first step in the right direction.”