The Survival Drive Tent Event Wednesday at Simms Park offered donated tents, tarps, sleeping bags, backpacks and winter wear to people in need. Scott Stanfield photo

Comox Valley tent event a reminder of housing crisis

A Survival Drive that culminated with a tent event generated a large donation of tents and clothing for vulnerable individuals in the Comox Valley.

The Nov. 1 –12 campaign also served as a reminder that some community members are sleeping outside during the winter.

“I’m blown away by people’s generosity,” Andrea Cupelli, co-ordinator of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, said Wednesday at Simms Park, where the event was held.

Unclaimed items will be shared between the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society, AVI Community Health Services, the Care-a-van mobile health unit, and homeless outreach programs offered by the Wachiay Friendship Centre and the CV Transition Society.

“The agencies themselves are tapped out of resources. When there’s no affordable housing for people to go, bare minimum we should be able to offer someone a tent,” said Cupelli, noting a cross-section of individuals — from the most vulnerable to the working poor and seniors — are seeking help from coalition member agencies.

The coalition’s 2018 Point in Time count indicates local homeless numbers have increased 12 per cent since the 2016 count.

“All the agencies, anecdotally what I hear from them, is more and more seniors coming through the door, and not a lot of resources to offer folks,” Cupelli said. “It’s affecting everyone.”

While more rental units have been constructed in recent years, Dawn to Dawn outreach worker Grant Shilling said rental rates are not affordable.

“We’re not talking about homeless people any more, we’re talking about working people,” said Shilling, who regularly receives calls from individuals unable to find a place to live. Some of these are members of the military who could not move to the Valley for this reason.

“It’s now filtered up to truly working poor, and people working almost a middle class level who cannot afford,” Shilling said. “If you’re a single person working full-time and your rent is $1,200 a month, forget it. Something’s got to give. So I’m grateful that we’re building more, but the wages aren’t keeping up with it (development and other costs).”

At the tent event, he met a couple in their 60s — who have worked throughout their adult lives — who pay $600 to live in a mushroom-infested trailer.

He also knows a 72-year-old Indigenous person who has been displaced on his home territory.

“That, to me, is colonization still not being resolved. That is a complete injustice,” Shilling said.

“It’s gotten worse. Everybody’s joining the homeless club now. There’s something completely frayed about our society when we’re in this place. This (survival drive) is like a last resort. I’m heartened by the community’s response, but nobody should be outside this time of year.”

More than 50 per cent of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque, according to the coalition. Different studies have shown that money is saved by housing chronically homeless individuals.

“How do we make that a priority?” Shilling said. “How do we get every level of government to not play volleyball, and pass it back and forth, and say, ‘We’re all going to work together and solve this?’”

Along with a roof overhead, Shilling notes the importance of providing dignity to those living outside during this state of “emergency and distress.

“Homelessness is not a crime. The police, the frontline workers, particularly the homeless and marginalized, nurses and mental health workers, all have to be working together. How do we direct them to resources to make it better for them?”

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