A referendum to address the homelessness issue is tentatively set for Nov. 28.

A referendum to address the homelessness issue is tentatively set for Nov. 28.

Homelessness issue headed to referendum

A referendum for a tax to address homelessness appears to be on the horizon.

Tuesday at committee of the whole, regional district directors unanimously approved a recommended date of Nov. 28. The question will ask voters if they favour a bylaw to establish a service to provide funds to one or more non-government organizations (NGOs), based on a plan to address homelessness in the Comox Valley.

A non-binding question at the last civic election indicates 71 per cent of voters support at least a $5 annual property tax.

Pending voter approval, homeowners would pay about $6 on a $300,000 home. The service would provide up to $150,000 a year for NGOs. Funding could be available by March.

“I really like what we’re looking at,” Courtenay director Larry Jangula said.

Area C director Edwin Grieve’s only concern is providing a minimal level of life support for groups that support homeless individuals. He hopes BC Housing and other such organizations come on board.

Participating jurisdictions would be Courtenay, Cumberland, Area A (excluding Denman and Hornby Islands), and Areas B and C. Comox, which has established a fund for the function of addressing homelessness, would instead partner with service providers on its own.

“It’s an awkward situation,” Helen Boyd, a member of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, said in a presentation to the committee.

The newly-formed coalition is developing a five-year plan based on priority needs to address homelessness.

“There are zero supportive housing units in the Comox Valley,” Boyd said, referring to the type of housing that contains onsite services and supports. She hopes the proposed Braidwood project in East Courtenay is the first.

Boyd noted that BC Housing has purchased the Washington Apartments in Courtenay.

“It preserves low-rental housing but doesn’t create additional housing,” she said.

One of the coalition’s goals in the first year is to create two new units of transitional housing at Amethyst House, a residential facility for women operated by the Comox Valley Transition Society.

In years two and three, it hopes to open a part-time drop-in centre for the homeless, create eight new permanent housing units and a youth housing fourplex, among other goals.

 

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