Last year’s Point-in-Time (PIT) homeless count conducted in the Comox Valley identified 132 individuals who were experiencing homelessness.
Sgt. Bill Webb (ret’d), service officer at the Courtenay Legion, said Branch 17 has identified 16 homeless veterans in the Comox Valley — which comprises about 12 per cent of the PIT count.
“Which I feel is completely outrageous in today’s age,” Webb said in a presentation to Courtenay council Monday, March 1. He was accompanied by Don Taylor of the Qualicum Beach Legion and Qualicum Coun. Scott Harrison.
The two Legion branches have met in an effort to determine how to help homeless veterans in their communities.
In 2018, Webb notes the federal government released a National Housing Strategy with a $55 billion “injection of funds into the system.” He said veterans were listed as one of the marginalized groups that should be prioritized for housing.
“As of today, that has not happened with regards to veterans.”
Harrison said veterans fall into a gap between federal and provincial jurisdictions. They’re outside the purview of BC Housing, but it’s difficult to access housing through Veterans Affairs Canada as a response.
In 2019, Webb was among the people who testified in Ottawa before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
“I have lived experience on the streets in the Comox Valley as a homeless veteran with two kids,” Webb said. “I was fortunate enough to find housing in our community.”
He said there’s a misconception that veterans are elderly men who served in the Second World War or the Korean War, when in fact the average age of Canadian veterans is 46.
“The demographics and the needs of veterans have changed dramatically over the past 10 years.”
Many have children and are on the cusp of becoming homeless due to high rents or the inability to find affordable housing, Webb added.
As of last month, he said London, Ont. made history by becoming the first Canadian community to end veterans’ homelessness, via the Built For Zero community and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.
“I would love to see our two communities be the next ones in line to end veterans homelessness,” Webb said. “And I believe we can over the next couple years, with support from our local councils and our community partners moving forward.”
The Courtenay Legion has partnered with Legion branches in Comox, Cumberland, Bowser, Qualicum and Parksville to consider issues faced by veterans. The Legion is asking council to consider following the lead of Qualicum council, which passed a resolution to support a grant application to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to help fund a study to determine the number of homeless veterans in the Oceanside and Comox Valley regions. If the application is successful, the Town of Qualicum Beach will provide matching funds for the first $3,000 raised to support the application.
Coun. Doug Hillian said homelessness in general is a travesty in a wealthy nation such as Canada, moreso when it concerns those who served the country. Council approved his motion for staff to consult with the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness before bringing the item back for consideration.