Affordable housing a pressing issue in Cowichan
The demonstrators who were removed from Charles Hoey, VC, Park in downtown Duncan last week were breaking the law, inconveniencing the public, and creating costs for the City of Duncan. While we cannot support their action, we can applaud them for bringing issues of homelessness, inadequate shelter, and poverty to our attention. It is shocking and disturbing that there are involuntary homeless people in a country as rich and developed as Canada.
A number of non-profit organizations, churches, service clubs, and co-operatives in the Cowichan region are actively working on different pieces of the homelessness and affordable housing puzzle. Recently, local government has begun to take steps to address this issue. All these efforts are hampered by high real estate prices, poverty, and very limited funding from the provincial and federal governments.
The Canadian Mental Health Association, Cowichan Valley Branch has been a leader in providing housing and related services to anyone in our community dealing with issues of mental illness, addictions, illness, disability, or poverty. CMHA-CVB has a variety of programs directed at different groups of people with extreme housing challenges:
• The Sobering & Assessment Centre provides a safe place for inebriated individuals to recover overnight. Previously, these people might have been in the emergency ward at Cowichan District Hospital, on the street, or in the police lockup.
• For people who are living rough, Warmland House offers a day-use common area with showers, laundry facilities, lockers, a quiet room, wifi access, a community garden, social service assistance, a weekly health care clinic, a weekly chiropractic clinic, and a monthly foot care clinic.
• Warmland House provides a 30-bed emergency shelter for anyone without housing who would benefit from assistance in meeting their basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, and hygiene. There is also an expanded shelter capacity during periods of extreme weather.
• Also in Warmland House, residents of 24 studio apartments receive support and assistance in stabilizing their lives and developing the skills they need to break the cycle of homelessness.
• As people move out of Warmland House into community housing, they are assisted in becoming landlord-friendly and in living independently by the Client and Tenant Support Team. More than 20 people are currently being supported.
• The Housing Outreach team maintains contact with individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and supports them to access the safe housing, health services, and other resources they need.
The focus of CMHA-CVB programs has been on people with the most challenging housing problems. The philosophy is “housing first,” so that people are in a stable place where they can deal with their personal mental health, addiction, interpersonal, health, or employment issues. In addition to these individuals, there are also many homeless and inadequately housed individuals and families in the Cowichan region whose major problem is simply the lack of affordable housing. Other community organizations are trying to address their needs.
Some of us are critical of the protesters for abusing the park and some of us are critical of the City of Duncan for chasing the protesters away. Instead of condemning either party, those of us who are concerned about inadequate shelter in our community can make a real difference with positive action: donate money, join, or volunteer with one of the local groups working on the issue. At the same time, ask senior levels of government to provide adequate financial support to the many local affordable housing initiatives being pioneered by caring and committed members of our community.
John Scull, president
Canadian Mental Health Association
Cowichan Valley Branch