You pretty much can’t have a conversation anywhere in the world today without one of our global crises popping up and confounding us with its complexity.
On the surface, housing people appears to be a relatively basic and solvable problem. We know how to clear land and build buildings, and here in Canada, as in many other places, we’ve figured out how government can be involved in aspects of housing to create more supply for those who need it.
Something, however, has gone wrong in our country. Twenty years ago, the federal government stopped investing in affordable housing. “Let the market do what it does,” they said, in effect, leaving provinces and communities to deal with what would become the biggest social issue of our time.
Fast-forward to 2021. Combine under-resourced mental health and addiction services, poverty, stigma, a very low supply of affordable housing, the processes of dealing with various levels of government, and a consistent shortfall of resources, and you have some idea of what Andrea Cupelli of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness calls “a tsunami of challenges.”
The coalition has faced these challenges since 2015, complicated last year by COVID-19, which has placed an even greater burden on those who are experiencing homelessness and those who work to help them.
Through the years, the organization’s member agencies (now numbering 34), the community, and government have seen the idea of homelessness evolve to include those who are fully employed and simply can’t find a place to call home.
Combining a variety of voices to strengthen advocacy efforts is the coalition’s approach to making a difference in the community when it comes to housing those in need.
While the Comox Valley Regional District was bringing in the Homelessness Supports Service through a local referendum in 2015, the coalition was forming and coming up with a Housing Action Plan with which to put these new taxpayer-funded dollars to work.
By recommending strong local organizations for funding (including the Comox Valley Transition Society, Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society, Wachiay Friendship Centre, Habitat for Humanity, John Howard Society, and L’Arche Comox Valley) and working closely with them, the coalition has been instrumental in helping to build 78 non-market housing units. They’ve also advocated for the building of 46 supportive housing units through BC Housing; this project, called The Junction, was opened in 2019. In early 2020, the Connect Warming Centre opened. Operated by the Comox Valley Transition Society, it offers limited overnight shelter spots and a warm gathering place and other support, seven afternoons a week.
Often, as a community, we see very little of what goes on with the non-profit groups who work tirelessly to help those whom our society has left behind. The coalition’s member agencies all want to eradicate homelessness in the Comox Valley, and it’s their shared values and strong sense of purpose that enable them to work together to bring us closer to this goal.
The Valley has its share of challenges when it comes to homelessness and affordable housing. We’re made up of a few unique communities, each with varying needs. And until now, regions like ours haven’t been considered by government and society at large as having extraordinary affordable housing problems, at least not compared to major cities. Fortunately for us, we have dedicated, passionate individuals working in focused, well-run organizations, bringing cohesive efforts to deal with these complex problems.
As a volunteer affordable-housing advocate and a Cumberland Homelessness and Affordable Housing committee member, I believe that we as residents can honour and support the coalition’s work by learning more about how this social issue—the most significant of our time—affects our community. Then we need to start talking about it and discover ways to take action.
Here’s what Andrea Cupelli says we can do to support the coalition’s work and help to make our community more hospitable and livable for everyone:
> Make noise! Let all levels of government know that we need more investment in non-market housing with supports. If you can, donate, fundraise, or volunteer for any of the coalition’s member agencies and the work they do.
> Be kind to all people—especially those who look like they are experiencing homelessness. Make eye contact and say hi. Lots of folks feel invisible, so let’s recognize the humanity in one another.
Finally, remember that everyone experiencing homelessness is part of someone’s family; literally anyone can end up homeless through circumstances they didn’t invite. With that in mind, consider supporting the coalition’s efforts to help these folks navigate their own personal tsunami of challenges.
PROFILE OF COMMUNITY IN ACTION SPONSORED BY NORTH ISLAND UROLOGY