A coalition tackling homelessness is looking to organizations such as the Strathcona Regional District as potential members for an advisory body. File photo

Coalition to start tackling homelessness in Campbell River

Regional district board raises issues about repeating previous work

Homelessness isn’t going away unless the community gets together on the issue.

That was the message from housing advocates to the Strathcona Regional District recently.

A couple of the members of the Campbell River Coalition to End Homelessness appeared before the SRD on June 6 to let the board know about the work happening and how the regional body might be involved. Pat McKenna, executive director for the local Habitat for Humanity, and Shelley Hammond, executive director for the Campbell River Head Injury Society, appeared as part of a committee that includes Keith Hopkins of the Salvation Army, Natalie Meredith of the John Howard Society, Lindsay McGinn of the United Way, with support from Libby King of the Strathcona Community Health Network and Sue Moen of the Salvation Army.

“It’s really a synergy between all the players to eradicate homelessness,” McKenna said.

The group got started this spring following meetings with the Strathcona Community Health Network held in 2017. The group is working on a mission statement and terms of reference.

“It drives our coalition in a really straightforward process,” Howard said. “We need to be strong. We need to speak as one.”

One of the key features of their work will be an assessment of housing needs through the region. The hope is to replicate similar efforts in other Vancouver Island communities.

“We’ve had some success on the Island in some other groups,” McKenna said.

He cited success stories like the Comox Valley, which installed a support service to leverage provincial and federal funding streams and will be developing 46 units.

“We’re hoping for the same thing here,” he said.

Other efforts include a plan to house 30 chronically homeless people in Nanaimo and a proposed service in the Cowichan Valley to address affordable housing.

Along with more members, the coalition is looking to government organizations like the Strathona Regional District to help with their future plans in an advisory capacity.

“We have room for more,” Howard said. “We need to hear from everybody to make it a strong voice.”

Ron Kerr, one of the Campbell River directors on the SRD board, complimented the mix of representatives in the coalition.

“This is a huge first step for Campbell River,” he said. “To me, it’s a dream team.”

He asked whether the groups’ focus would be on Campbell River or regional.

“The goal is to start small and expand big,” McKenna responded.

Charlie Cornfield, also a Campbell River director, also expressed some concern over repeating previous work conducted in the community on homelessness.

“It just seems like we’re going back,” he said.

Area D Director Brenda Leigh had other questions, specifically about the need to address issues such as access to mental health and addiction services before providing housing.

“It’s not just a matter to me of building a building,” she said.

Howard responded that the needs assessment work will help answer questions about what people actually need in terms of housing.

The group’s next steps include adding to the member and advisory groups and funding a coordinator position to help explore projects and funding opportunities. Beyond this, work will involve implementation of projects identified from the needs assessment and the development a five-year strategic plan.

While McKenna said the group hoped to work with the SRD in an advisory capacity, it will continue to forge ahead.

“We’re moving anyway. We’d like to have you with us,” he said.