As a former nurse who is managing a downtown 42-room single-room-occupancy hotel in Victoria, I can see the issue of homelessness etched in the eyes of every resident. They were either homeless before finding a place with us or will be facing homelessness due to issues with income due to old age, mental health or addictions after leaving.
A single adult on welfare receives $610 a month, and $375 of that is for rent. In Vancouver, it is $910 a month. According to “homeless hub,” 10,000 people are on a B.C. Housing wait list. About 1,500 people in the province have no secure shelter at all.
Alina Turner of Medicine Hat, Alta., played a role in fighting homelessness in that province. She stresses the importance of listening to those without a home.
“If you listen, you’re going to know it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer,” she said. “The best outcome happens when the shelters are well matched to clients’ needs and when they are free to say: ‘No thanks.’ ”
Vancouver lawyer D.J. Larkin of the Pivot Legal Society says: “We need to stop reacting to events; poor people have to live somewhere.”
CHEK News reported in July that 1,525 individuals experience homelessness in the city. Most were men, were from B.C. and were homeless for long periods of time. The Capital Regional District reported that homelessness starts at an early age. Forty per cent first experienced homelessness at 18 or younger; 20 per cent of homeless were 55 or over; 20 per cent were under 25; 33 per cent identified as Indigenous; 88 per cent had been homeless more than six months in the past year; 57 per cent had lived elsewhere in B.C. before coming to Victoria.
So what do we do about it? Medicine Hat’s approach to system planning in a housing-first context seems a good place to start. Within three days of someone turning up on the housing radar, that person is seen by a support worker, and within 10 days they have a roof over their head.
“There is an aching, burning need around the world to solve this problem,” said the mayor of Medicine Hat.
What’s important to take home? Homelessness will always be a state that people will fall in and out of, like love.
Finland gives homeless people permanent housing as soon as they become homeless, instead of “muddling along with different agencies.”
“Housing first” means ending homelessness instead of managing it. In housing first, people do not have to earn the right to housing by proving their capability to manage their lives. Instead, they are given a stable home, then tailored support is included.
Did it work? Finland has all but eradicated rough sleeping. How? Tenants pay rent based on their income and they might contribute to the cost of services; the rest is covered by the municipalities.
Stable living conditions are a basic right of every human being. This would enable the use of mainstream services instead of using emergency services. This would save money in the long run.
There is no quick fix, but a solid base to start from and a change in attitude are needed if we are to help our homeless residents of Victoria.
Shadley Taylor lives in Saanich.