A September 2021 count indicates the number of Comox Valley individuals experiencing homelessness has increased 74 per cent since March 2020. File photo

A September 2021 count indicates the number of Comox Valley individuals experiencing homelessness has increased 74 per cent since March 2020. File photo

Homeless encampment numbers increase in Comox Valley

The role of bylaw enforcement evolves as it deals with homelessness

Statistics from a pre-pandemic count in the Comox Valley indicated 132 individuals, at minimum, were experiencing homelessness. In September 2021, the number was estimated to exceed 230 individuals — a 74 per cent increase since March 2020 — with the City of Courtenay being the epicentre of the local homelessness crisis.

READ: Comox Valley homeless count indicates increase in numbers

Peter de Graaf, manager of bylaw services, says common causes of homelessness include family breakdown, addictions, mental health disorders, evictions and poverty.

“Like many other communities on Vancouver Island, in B.C. and across Canada, there is a shortage of supported housing, affordable housing and shelter beds available,” de Graaf said at Courtenay council Nov. 1. “As long as this continues, homelessness will continue to exist within our community.”

de Graaf said the role of bylaw enforcement is evolving as it works with community partners to provide a service that is respectful, compassionate, and in tune with social issues and their root causes. Collaboration is critical to establish relationships with homeless people, police and outreach organizations.

Bylaw officers frequently come across homeless individuals who are overdosing. According to the Ministry of Public Safety, there were 40 illicit drug toxicity deaths in North Vancouver Island from Jan. 1 to July 31 of this year.

“We need to watch the permanent camps, the 24/7 ones,” de Graaf said. “They’ve been associated with increased crime, safety issues, public heath issues, fire hazards, nuisances and increasing remediation costs. When these camps get entrenched, they tend to grow, and the issues escalate.”

The City received 41 encampment complaints in 2019, 44 in 2020 and 56 so far this year. In summer, there were at least 59 occupants in camps in Courtenay. Police have said that crime associated with homeless individuals has increased significantly this year.

The City requires camps to be dismantled daily at 8 a.m. With consent from homeless individuals, staff remove garbage and hazardous materials around dismantled camp sites. Tents can be set up in evenings, but encampments near dangerous locations such as construction sites and on City-owned leased property are prohibited.

A new encampment strategy has been implemented at four locations, where conditions have improved dramatically. Many occupants are helping to remove and dispose of garbage.

“We don’t presume to know it all,” de Graaf said. “The homeless piece is a very complex societal issue. We’re learning, we’re listening, and we’re identifying training opportunities to get better in our service delivery.”

The City continues to advocate senior governments for additional measures to alleviate shortfalls in housing and social supports.



reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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