At its first meeting Tuesday, a select committee consisting of three members of the Comox Valley Regional District board directed staff to draft a Request for Proposal that seeks a subsidized, scattered housing approach with supports for homeless individuals.
The committee includes Comox director Tom Grant — who was declared chair — Courtenay director Starr Winchester and Area C representative/CVRD board chair Edwin Grieve. The group is tasked with disbursing funds from a one-time $300,000 grant from the Vancouver Island Health Authority to address homeless issues and to support healthy communities.
They are to focus on homelessness and the Housing First model, which advocates housing combined with supportive treatment services in terms of health, substance abuse, education and employment. The idea is to provide housing in apartments scattered throughout a community to foster a sense of home and to expedite a person’s reintegration into the community.
“The thought of the committee is, and will remain so, is that we want to use this money to house homeless people,” Grant, a former board member of the Dawn to Dawn: Action on Homelessness Society, said in an interview. “We don’t want to fund any more studies.
“We made it quite clear to staff that there was to be none of this money used for administrative purposes within the regional district. We want every single penny of this to go to helping the homeless people in the Comox Valley.
“We recognize that it’s a one-shot, windfall deal. There’s not enough money there to fund any sticks and mortar.”
Grant notes the Mental Health Association of Canada is pushing the idea of scattered housing, a model he says has been used successfully.
A barrier to housing in the Comox Valley is a $375 shelter allowance, which Grant said cannot rent anything.
He suggests the VIHA money could at least subsidize a homeless person’s rent for a certain amount of time.
“And hopefully with supports they will be back on their feet and become productive members of society,” Grant said.
“We’re not going to do direct subsidies. We’re going to turn this money over to whatever organizations respond to our RFP and we find meet the criteria of what the motion was.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Grant said people are better equipped to connect with the system if they live in a house as opposed to a tent.
“I’ve seen it so many times with people we’ve helped over the years, and just how much their lives are changed when they can go home at night and lock their door and they’re safe and secure and not worried about getting beaten up or robbed.”
Once the basics are in place, people can start thinking about identification, medical cards and proper medication, he added.
“It makes a big difference in a person’s life,” Grant said. “Hopefully with this small amount of money we can be architects of change, too.”
Of the $300,000, the board last week approved $20,000 to the Wachiay Friendship Centre for a youth suicide prevention program in partnership with the school district. Dawn to Dawn will receive $6,000 to develop year-round recreation programs.
Another $100,000 will accompany property at the 800 block of Cliffe Avenue that is targeted for emergency shelter and supportive housing, contingent on acceptance by the City of Courtenay.
The CVRD committee of the whole meets Tuesday.