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Outreach worker to help people on brink of becoming homeless

Single adults and couples who are on the brink of losing their housing often fall through the cracks because they’re not a high enough priority for support until they’re actually homeless.
The Quadra Village Community Centre will hire a housing outreach worker for a year as part of a pilot project aimed at helping people at risk of becoming homeless. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Single adults and couples who are on the brink of losing their housing often fall through the cracks because they’re not a high enough priority for support until they’re actually homeless.

Even people staying in shelters or couch surfing often have trouble accessing help, says Kelly Greenwell, executive director of the Quadra Village Community Centre.

Helping those people find housing is the goal of a one-year pilot project approved last week by Victoria councillors, who granted the community centre’s request for $60,000 in funding to hire a housing outreach worker for one year.

“We’re running into situations where, you know, literally we’re getting told, they’re not homeless, so they’re not eligible,” Greenwell said.

Overstretched staff at the community centre have been trying to help people facing evictions remain housed, but it’s become a full-time job as the need for support has spiked during the pandemic, Greenwell said.

The outreach worker will work with individuals to try to keep them housed, whether that means connecting them to other services, helping them to get on subsidized housing lists, or looking for affordable market rentals, Greenwell said.

“We want to play a part in, you know, trying to end the cycle of folks just having a bad moment in their life, like a pending eviction, and then see that turn into a chronically unhoused situation,” he said.

The service is focused on single adults and couples because a similar program exists for families through the Burnside Gorge Community Association.

That program has seen an “overwhelming” rise in the number of single adults and couples looking for help, the Burnside Gorge association said in a letter of support for Quadra Village’s funding request to council.

The Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group, North Park Neighbourhood Association and Fairfield Gonzales Community Association also wrote to council in support of the funding request.

Greenwell said other community groups in the city will be able to refer people to the housing outreach worker.

Douglas King, executive director of the Together Against Poverty Society, a legal advocacy group that helps people with tenancy issues, said he welcomes anything that increases support for people in need of housing.

“We’re not able to help people find housing and one of most common questions we get from clients is: ‘Can you help me find a place to live?’ ” King said.

King said while he supports the new program, it won’t address the real problem that housing in the private market is increasingly unaffordable.

“If we took more aggressive measures, I think, to lower rents in our community and to make the private market more accessible to low-income people, then we wouldn’t have such a dependence on these type of positions,” he said.

Coun. Sarah Potts, who along with councillors Sharmarke Dubow and Ben Isitt brought a motion to council to approve the funding request, said community centres are well-positioned to provide housing services, because they already have relationships with community members.

“We have to catch people before they fall. That’s our best chance here,” she said.

Coun. Stephen Andrew said he is trying to secure funding for the program from outside the city, because some people feel uncomfortable using city money to address housing issues, which fall under provincial and federal responsibility.

“If we can keep people in housing as opposed to having to house them or re-house them, this is a great program, but it should not be a city-funded program,” he said.

Councillors are set to ratify the vote at their next meeting.