File photo by Scott Stanfield.

File photo by Scott Stanfield.

Homeless encampments shine light on affordable housing issues in the Comox Valley

The Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness believes more than 10 such sites exist in the region

Andrea Cupelli was not surprised when she heard that a homeless encampment had sprung up in downtown Courtenay.

The co-ordinator of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness (CVCEH) said a lack of supportive housing and affordable housing, as well as low vacancy rates, have contributed to the Valley’s increased homeless population.

“The coalition and outreach workers in the community know that people have been sleeping rough in camps and often moving from site to site to site,” she said, adding there could be more than 10 such encampments throughout the Comox Valley.

The homeless encampment is located on a vacant lot concealed by a fence on the corner of Fifth Street and England Avenue. Alongside the tents, heaps of clothing, propane tanks, bicycle parts, a baby stroller and other items are strewn across the grounds.

Read More: Tents pop up in downtown Courtenay

Cupelli said the encampment is indicative of the Comox Valley’s need for supportive housing, which is subsidized housing that provides 24/7 support to residents.

The B.C. government is committing $291 million towards building 2,000 modular supportive housing units throughout the province. Cupelli said the coalition and Valley-based municipalities have been “ticking off all of the boxes” when it comes to being viable funding recipients, but the issue is finding viable land to build the developments on.

Read More: Outreach worker pitches supportive housing concept in Cumberland

“We definitely have agencies that are willing to be the supportive services on site. We have a local construction company [whose employees] are professionals when it comes to building modular housing,” she said.

Cupelli said the Valley’s lone homeless shelter, located in Courtenay on Pidcock Avenue and operated by the Salvation Army, can only house 18 people at a time (33-35 in weather emergencies).

According to the Pidcock House’s webpage, the facility provides “showers, laundry, meals, and referral to other services in the community,” as well as six transition units.

“We do have the emergency shelter but it’s not a safe place for people to live 24/7, so the coalition has been working on acquiring some supportive modular housing,” said Cupelli. “That’s certainly why I think people have been camping out.”

The Comox Valley participated in a Point in Time count last month to determine a snapshot of the region’s homeless population in 2018. Results of the count should be publicly available by June.

The CVCEH previously conducted a PIT count in 2016, which found a minimum population of 157 homeless people in the Comox Valley.

Read More: High rents in the Comox Valley cause headaches for the low-income

“I think this [encampment] situation is really bringing to light that we’re in an affordable housing crisis, we have a 0.5 per cent vacancy rate, and rents are getting crazy high,” said Cupelli.