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Great need remains for affordable housing in Comox Valley
The Lilli House shelter has reached capacity more frequently over the last year than in the past.
The reason, says Comox Valley Transition Society program co-ordinator Anne Davis, is because women who have sought shelter and are ready to move on have nowhere to go in terms of finding an affordable place to rent.
"And that has an obvious impact on other women who are needing to come in in urgent situations," Davis said. "We're seeing a huge need for affordable housing for women and children leaving abusive situations."
The society welcomed last week's announcement by the City of Courtenay, which purchased a property at 810 Braidwood Rd. on the east side of the Courtenay River where it intends to establish affordable, supportive housing. The $264,500 purchase was made with $355,000 in proceeds from selling a trio of lots at Cliffe Avenue. The regional district purchased the latter for $470,000 in 2010 for emergency shelter/supportive housing purposes.
Mayor Larry Jangula says the City wants any housing construction to be an asset to the neighbourhood and to the entire Valley. He promises an open and inclusive process when seeking input from the community and service providers as to how to move forward.
"We're pleased that the City has indicated there will be an open and transparent process," Davis said. "There is a desperate need for affordable housing of all kinds here. It's not going to be easy to determine priorities."
Financing for constructing the project still needs to be addressed. The City will investigate funding opportunities from all levels of government and seek partnerships with community organizations.
The CVTS, which has operated about 25 years, owns Lilli House outright. It has funds set aside for housing.
"We're in a very good position to move forward," Davis said. "But what we need is property. This is a possible opportunity."
The Cliffe Avenue site was lauded by front-line workers but criticized by area businesses as a possible shelter location. Last year, Jangula forwarded a resolution to direct staff to initiate a zoning amendment to ensure homeless shelters are not permitted within a specified area of the downtown core. The CVRD then transferred ownership of the Cliffe Avenue properties to the City along with $100,000 from the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
The funds and proceeds from the property sale would be used “for the development of an emergency shelter and/or supportive housing elsewhere,” a news release states.
However, Jangula feels taxpayers should not be in the business of building and maintaining shelters or subsidized housing.
"That is a provincial responsibility," he said.
Jangula instead envisions a subsidized housing unit at Braidwood, possibly containing bachelor-size suites with supervision.
"That would be my vision," he said.
Last month, the Province committed $500,000 in ongoing, annual funding to ensure the Pidcock House emergency shelter in Courtenay continues to provide 24/7 support. The shelter, managed by the Salvation Army, began round-the-clock operations in 2011.
Since then, government has provided short-term funding for extended hours. The shelter provides 14 beds for homeless individuals, as well as showers, laundry, meals, and access to skills training and recovery services.
Community ministries director Brent Hobden says the Sally Ann is desperately short on shelter beds and transitional housing. He notes many frequenters at Pidcock stay a month.
"We put them through all of the case plannings, we help them with their goal-settings, we help them with all the financial, medical (needs) that are associated with homelessness."
Much of the homeless population needs to be taught skills such as entering a rental agreement and caring for a home, he added.
"We need a new shelter, we absolutely do," Hobden said. "The one that we have is significantly too small for our community, and has no ability for programming. There's no space for it. We need that component of the transitional house that's attached to it.
"We need more beds," Hobden added. "We could stumble through for another couple years on the 14 beds that BC Housing has. We have the ability to put an additional four that the Salvation Army pays for."
But Jangula considers a shelter to be a temporary solution that does not solve homelessness.
"We have limited money provincially and municipally," said Jangula, who feels a subsidized housing unit would take pressure off the shelters. "It's a win-win."
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The Comox Valley Housing Task Force hosts a public forum Oct. 16 at the Florence Filberg Centre. It will address issues related to homelessness, access to affordable housing and healthy communities. Feedback will be used as a starting point for project planning.