One Comox Valley resident is all too familiar with the November rain — but it was the wind and dropping temperatures which found her facing one of her biggest struggles.
Val (who asked her last name not be used) was homeless, living in a tent in the Nim Nim Campground, and found every weakness in her tent when the rain, winds and cold arrived in the fall.
“And in November, the chill winds invaded my bones. The prospect of living this way in January and February frightened me,” she wrote in a letter. “I was desperate to escape that tent but I had no job or money. Talk about a catch-22 situation.”
The letter is part of the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society’s fall campaign to raise awareness and funds for those living without a home.
Thanks to the non-profit organization which makes transitional housing possible to homeless individuals and families, Val found a warm, dry and safe apartment, and three years later, is planning to move to the Interior to spend more time with her grandson.
But for her, and the Valley’s homeless population, she was first faced with the reality of surviving day-to-day on the street.
“Even in a small town, the street is a pretty scary place. I was on my toes all the time,” she explained. “You can’t lock the doors, and you never know if your belongings are going to be taken.”
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Val, like many people, never imagined herself to be homeless. She said her story is about circumstance and bad luck.
Before coming to the Comox Valley in 2011, she lived and worked in the Kootenays. She had previously lived in the Comox Valley, but wanted to make a change following a car accident which left her with a permanent, disabling neck injury.
She was left to manage on social assistance, yet sent a deposit for an apartment in the Valley, in hopes the change would help in her recovery.
“I knew right away on the day I landed on the Island the apartment wasn’t available,” she said, as the landlord had rented it to someone else.
She then found herself in the tent at the campground, “in a little bit of a panic,” as she knew the winter weather was quickly approaching.
“Once I got into the shelter, I was okay,” she noted.
“It was 20 years since I was last in the Comox Valley and I was feeling very bleak, but I am a really determined person.”
For the first time in a month, explained Val, she was warm and dry at night, but knew she could only stay there for a short time, and not the entire winter.
“It was my first experience with homelessness. I’ve been around the block, and had some jobs in life where I’ve dealt with homeless people, but the experience is totally different.”
At the shelter, Val connected with Dawn to Dawn, which provided her an apartment and helped her by paying the difference between the apartment rent and what she could pay with social assistance.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. They are so fair and so fast.”
David Clark, a director with the organization, said more people need to understand that homelessness is a social issue.
“A lot of people believe homeless people are victims of their own sloth, and they have very little compassion for the route which causes homelessness,” he explained.
“If we’re going to help people turn their lives around … we have to help make them warm and dry … we don’t judge; we accept people as we find them.”
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Clark explained the provincial government social service allowance for housing is $375 a month.
“You can’t even rent a room for that,” he said.
The remainder of rent money comes out of an individual’s cost of living, which leaves a person with too little money to buy food and maintain a healthy diet, he added.
Working with Dawn to Dawn, tenants contribute what they can according to their housing allowance, and the organization pays the difference, along with hydro.
They look after as many people as they can, working with willing landlords for one- and two-bedroom apartments, and they have 26 people in apartments and also have 10 trailers which were donated at the Maple Pool Campsite.
In the Comox Valley, Clark estimates the number of people who seek shelter on a daily basis, who don’t use a shelter or are at risk at approximately 300.
He said there are also many who he calls ‘soft homeless,’ such as those who couch-surf, are not out in the elements but are at risk. There are others who are also at risk, he added, such as single mothers or those physically or mentally disabled.
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“I have to make a move back to the Interior — but it’s worth it for my grandson,” said Val with a smile. “It’s completing the circle.”
Clark said it is exactly the type of situation which Dawn to Dawn hopes to happen to the people they serve — a return to their lives and a place of greater comfort.
Calling it a “third-world problem in a first-world country,” Clark hopes their final campaign of the year will help the organization meet or exceed last year’s fundraising of $14,500.
Their fall appeal letter has been distributed within the community, with Val sharing her story.
“One thing we would like to do is of course, cure homelessness, but we realize that’s not realistic, so we try and reduce the number of people who are homeless,” noted Clark, who acknowledges the organization is strongly supported by the Comox Valley Regional District, BC Housing and other organizations.
To find out more information about Dawn to Dawn or to make a donation, visit dawntodawn.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.