A group of concerned nurses is advocating local governments for action to deal with homelessness in the Comox Valley.
The local network of the Association of Registered Nurses of B.C. hopes to re-establish the regional district as the governance body for a regional strategy to end homelessness.
The group notes the 2008 City of Courtenay Mayor’s Task force and a number of ensuing studies have addressed the issue. Among the task force recommendations was a housing first approach.
A non-binding question at the last municipal election indicates voters are in favour of a tax to reduce homelessness. They were given three options: pay nothing, up to $5 or up to $10 for a home assessed at $300,000. The latter garnered the most votes – by a substantial margin – in each of the four Comox Valley electoral districts.
The association also notes the CVRD awarded a contract to the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society for a scattered housing program.
Though some individuals have been sheltered through the program, others continue to experience “chronic homelessness resulting in compromised health and elevated costs to the public system,” the association states in a briefing note to the CVRD.
“Although concrete, safe, secure, affordable and supportive housing units are the most pressing need, we believe that foundational leadership and a clear plan is paramount…Currently, no regional strategy or governance body exists.”
It urges the CVRD to:
•Establish a local government-funded affordable housing and homelessness service;
•Create a multi-year plan to end homelessness;
•Create a social or housing planner staff position to co-ordinate action.
Tuesday at committee of the whole proceedings, CVRD directors voted to include the briefing note in a referral package to Valley municipalities for comment. The package will include a Dawn to Dawn proposal concerning a method to increase the supply of affordable scattered housing. The society calculates it can increase the housing stock by five units each year if it receives a $200,000 grant from the CVRD’s tax levy for the homeless.
Cumberland director Roger Kishi was the lone committee member opposed to including the Dawn to Dawn information, which was included as an addendum on Tuesday’s agenda. He would prefer to table the addendum until councils comment on the referral package.
“There’s no service, there’s no program or function, there’s no process, there’s no money,” Kishi said. “So it seems a bit premature for something like that to come forward. Nobody else has been given an opportunity to submit a proposal. There’s lots of other agencies that are working on different forms of housing for their particular client.”
District CAO Deb Oakman said all information received concerning homelessness is positive.
“There are a lot of ideas,” she said. “The more we share the better.”
Area C director Edwin Grieve noted the possibility of burnout in organizations such as Dawn to Dawn and the Salvation Army that invest a great deal of time on a “shoestring budget.” He welcomes the opportunity to consider the homelessness issue with “brand new eyes.”
“We have to look at it as a brand new initiative,” Grieve said.
The referral package will also include a questionnaire to help the CVRD board determine whether a specific regional service should be established to address homelessness. Questions ask, for instance, if jurisdictions would support such a service and how it should be established. Results will be presented at committee of the whole June 23. The objective is to determine whether to proceed to a referendum or alternate approval process regarding a regional service.