The lack of rental housing in Campbell River is a “crisis” that is “escalating” says Mayor Andy Adams.
The situation has reached a point where even those who hold down a job are finding themselves with no fixed address and nowhere to call home.
“We’re seeing more and more people who are facing homelessness in Campbell River and it’s not just the most vulnerable anymore. More people that have two jobs aren’t finding housing in Campbell River,” said Lori McKeown, program manager at the John Howard Society and a member of the local Housing First Committee
The committee was formed two years ago as representatives from local churches, charitable organizations and concerned community members came together to address homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in the city.
Linda Dwyer, a retired teacher who also sits on the local Housing First Committee, said it wasn’t hard to find people eager to help.
“It’s an issue that has an actual face that citizens see when they walk or drive on Campbell River streets,” Dwyer said. “We all value having a safe and comfortable place to live and we have empathy for those who do not enjoy that privilege.
“Our committee believes that without safe, affordable and perhaps supportive housing, people have very little chance of overcoming the reasons they became homeless in the first place.”
What’s arguably most concerning, Dwyer added, is that homelessness is affecting more people than ever before.
“Groups of people that have never faced homelessness before are teetering on the edge of becoming so,” Dwyer said.
McKeown echoed that.
“We’re feeling the problem is getting much worse with homelessness,” she said.
The pair attended Monday’s council meeting to ask for some help from the city. Their ask was for a city staff member to sit on the committee to provide assistance with things like reworking bylaws that have the potential to address affordable housing, as well as consider something similar to a referendum that was successful in the Comox Valley that asked residents to divert a portion of their property taxes towards addressing homelessness.
Mayor Adams agreed it’s an issue that needs some serious consideration, adding that it’s something council has been discussing and will continue to advocate for with the province.
“We know rental accommodations are diminishing and the crisis is escalating as the vacancy rates drop,” Adams said. “We’re very much aware. Council discusses this on a regular basis. We’ll take your recommendation under advisement and get back to you.”
Both Councillors Michele Babchuk and Charlie Cornfield suggested the committee’s request may be best put to the Strathcona Regional District as homelessness is seen as a regional issue and the communities within the regional district are currently working on the issue through the Community Health Network – a group of stakeholders tasked with analyzing the determinants of health and homelessness issues in the region.
“We’re trying to deal with this on a regional basis and I know a good percentage of our homeless are not from Campbell River, they come from the outlying areas which is why we support that regional approach,” Cornfield said.
To put the magnitude of the issue into perspective, McKeown shared that through the Homeless Prevention Program at the John Howard Society, 404 clients received program assistance but she said “countless” others were unable to be helped by the society. Of those who did receive assistance, 99 were families with 16 of those classified as experiencing ‘absolute homelessness.’
She said a further 30 to 50 families are waiting for a home through Makola Housing – the affordable housing project that is expected to open soon in the former Travelodge hotel – while Rose Harbour has a “constant” wait list of 30 to 40 names.
“There’s a real lack of affordable housing in Campbell River,” McKeown said, adding the problem was compounded with the recent loss of the Quinsam Hotel. “With the fire at the Quinny, that’s 14 people that are very hard to house, so that’s a significant loss for our community.”
McKeown added that the society does receive funding from BC Housing to help those who are facing homelessness find a place to call their own, however, those places just don’t physically exist anymore.
“We’re now at the point where we just can’t find any other housing.”