High rents in the Comox Valley causing headaches for the low-income

Low-paying jobs. Skyrocketing rents.

Not a good combination in the Comox Valley when it comes to keeping a roof over your head.

The Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness gave its annual update to city council Monday night, July 4.

Heather Ney, of the Women’s Transition Society and a member of the Coalition’s leadership team, said “we have a significant problem here” when it comes to lower-cost housing.

Last year, the Coalition conducted a “point in time” survey to provide a “snapshot” of the minimum number of homeless people.

The count found 157 people compared to 52 in Campbell River and 174 in Nanaimo.

“Something really striking is that 57 per cent of the homeless population were female,” she said.

And most of them were from the Valley, with about one-third from other parts of the Island.

“They’re not coming from far and wide,” she said.

And while many of the homeless aren’t camping out, “there’s a lot of couch surfing”.

Some of the main barriers to finding homes, she said, were low incomes, the “incredibly high rent here”, and lack of suitable housing.

There have been some accomplishments, though, in dealing with the homeless.

Ney noted that two transition housing units were completed at Amethyst House in December and have been steadily occupied. Amethyst House is operated by the Women’s Transition Society for women dealing with substance abuse.

The Transition Society was also able, with a grant from BC Housing and a small mortgage, to buy a new four-plex rental on Third Street.

This building is currently housing four women with their children, most of whom had come from Lilli House, the shelter operated for women affected by domestic abuse. Rent is geared to income.

The Salvation Army is adding 14 units to its Courtenay shelter, thanks to funding from BC Housing.

And, of course, 34 units of low-rent housing will be going up soon on Braidwood Avenue in Courtenay, again due to BC Housing funding.

Next year, she said, the Dawn to Dawn Society plans to buy a condo, thanks to funding from the Town of Comox and the Comox Valley Regional District.

That’s because their “scattered housing model” doesn’t work well any more because of the lack of appropriate rentals in the Valley.

“There’s a huge spectrum of people who are homeless … working people, seniors, youth, people coming out of Lilli House, this whole range of people who can’t afford housing in the Comox Valley,” Ney said.

She added that providers for seniors are getting calls three or four times a week, mostly from single or widowed women, who “can’t find a thing to rent” on their income of Old Age Pension and CPP.

Counc. Doug Hillian said “we all recognize that what we really need is a housing strategy from senior levels of government.”