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Waiting list for subsidized housing in Victoria stretches on for years

The crowd lining up outside the B.C. Employment Office on Pandora Avenue to collect assistance cheques on the second-to-last Wednesday of each month will include a winner of sorts today.
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Manfred S., who didn't want to give his last name, has been on the waiting list for subsidized housing for four years. In the meantime, he lives at the Rock Bay Landing shelter.

The crowd lining up outside the B.C. Employment Office on Pandora Avenue to collect assistance cheques on the second-to-last Wednesday of each month will include a winner of sorts today.

An advocacy group for the homeless will award the People’s Prize for Patience to the person who claims to have been on the B.C. Housing subsidized housing waiting list the longest. The prize includes a food basket and gift certificate but is more a symbolic gesture to raise awareness about the need for housing in Victoria, part of the national campaign to end homelessness.

“People can spend years on the wait-list and seem to get nowhere,” said Bernice Kamano, at a weekly meeting of the Committee to End Homelessness Victoria.

She speaks from personal experience: Kamano, 65, has been on the housing waiting list for 11 years. The grandmother and artist has an apartment, but the $570 rent eats up almost her entire pension income.

“I’m thankful there are places like Anawim House and Our Place to eat,” she said. “But it would be heaven if I could pay manageable rent and afford to buy groceries.”

The committee estimates there are about 1,500 people on the housing list for the capital region. B.C. Housing said the Victoria waiting list is at 621, down from 669 last year. Priority is given to families, seniors and the homeless. While B.C. Housing manages the registry, applicants need to advocate for themselves by regularly updating their profiles and applying to housing providers directly.

“It can be a case of the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” said Lynsey Madine from Pacifica Housing, a non-profit that provides housing for low-income earners.

“People might not be aware of what they need to do and no one ever tells them. I’ve had people … [who] said they’ve been on the list for eight years.”

Manfred S., who didn’t want to his last name used, is the longest-term resident at Rock Bay Landing, the city’s largest homeless shelter.

“I don’t live here. This is not a place you live. You just exist, and barely,” said the 68-year-old. He has stayed at the shelter for three years and has been on the B.C. Housing waiting list for four.

“I get letters from these people and sign things, but nothing happens.”

A baker by trade, Manfred said his life turned upside down when he was hit by a drunk driver while in a crosswalk in Nanaimo nearly a decade ago. In the years since, he moved to Victoria for medical treatment, including three hip surgeries, lost his apartment after suffering a stroke and was hit by a car again in July at an intersection downtown. While staying at Rock Bay, he’s been threatened, hit and robbed.

“It’s nerve-racking. I’m constantly dealing with difficult people. I can’t cook or do anything,” he said, adding he’s a vegetarian and often doesn’t get enough nutritious food. “All I need is a place of my own, to live like I used to, in quiet.”

Shelter manager Don McTavish said housing Manfred has been a challenge. “It’s needs-based and he needs some help but can mostly live on his own. His situation just shows there’s a huge need for a range of housing.”

Housing in Victoria is expensive, creating a greater demand for subsidized housing in the community, B.C. Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay said in an email. There are 136 affordable units in development in Victoria, in addition to 1,865 created since 2001.

“We will continue to work on addressing the need for affordable housing options for those in greatest need with our partners at other levels of government, the non-profit housing sector and private developers in Victoria and across the province,” he said.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com