The Vital Signs report assesses the overall health of the Comox Valley.

Report grades quality of life in the Comox Valley

Assessing the overall health of the region, the 2018 Comox Valley Vital Signs report was released last week to measure how the Valley is doing as a place to live, learn, work and grow. The report – an important tool that informs United Way’s investment decisions – identifies trends and patterns in all areas critical to the quality of life of the community, providing data to drive action for improvement.

Vital Signs is a partnership between the Comox Valley Community Foundation, United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island, the Comox Valley Social Planning Society and North Island College. The Valley is one of several communities across Canada to release a local Vital Signs report this month.

“By tracking the health of the community, we’re able to see where improvements need to be made and action needs to be taken,” says Bill Anglin, United Way Central & North Vancouver Island board member and Comox resident. “The knowledge we gain from participating in Vital Signs and Point-in-Time homeless counts allows United Way to invest donor dollars in programs and initiatives with the greatest impact. We are able to provide leadership that effectively targets social change to improve the health and happiness of our community.”

Vital Signs is part of a national initiative launched in 2006 by the Community Foundations of Canada. In 2013, 26 foundations participated. This is the second time the Vital Signs report has been conducted locally.

“United Way convinced the Comox Valley Community Foundation to undertake the first local Vital Signs report in 2016,” says Norm Carruthers, CVCF board member. “I believe the 2018 report will be of great value to the community once again, and I am so thankful to United Way for their leadership. The Comox Valley is better for their initiative.”

Highlights from the 2018 Comox Valley Vital Signs Report:

Housing and Homelessness

There was an overall decrease in housing starts, which when combined with a significant increase in housing costs and lack of rental units for families, has shown a negative impact on access to affordable housing in the Comox Valley.

• Housing starts decreased by 22.3 per cent (374 in 2015 to 293 in 2017).

• Benchmark single-family home sale prices increased by 62.3 per cent.

• Benchmark apartment sale prices increased by 94.3 per cent.

• Rental vacancy rates in Courtenay are 2.4 per cent overall, however, three-plus bedrooms are zero per cent and two bedrooms are at 1.9 per cent, making it impossible for families to find appropriate rentals.

• 45.4 per cent of renter households spend 30 per cent or more of their income on housing.

• 20 per cent of renter households spend 50 per cent or more of their income on housing.

• Between 2013 and 2018 there was a 250 per cent increase in the number of households on the BC Housing waitlist.

Despite the negative impacts of the housing market, the Comox Valley saw a decrease in the number of homeless residents, and a lower poverty rate than the provincial average. That said, there is more demand for homeless shelter beds than ever before.

• Point-in-Time homeless count numbers decreased overall in 2018, but homeless seniors (55-plus) comprise an alarmingly high 29 per cent of the entire local homeless population.

• Extreme weather response shelter data shows a 135.2 per cent increase in the number of mats used by men between 2017 and 2018.

In 2018, United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island convened 29 local social service agencies to form the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness. The group lobbied for supportive housing, and this year 46 supportive housing units (the first ever in Comox) are under construction and scheduled to open in 2019. United Way also helped support the 2018 Point-in-Time homeless count, and continues to fund local programs that provide food bank baskets, financial tutoring to help people move out of poverty, and adult literacy programs for people experiencing homelessness.

Community Health

Unfortunately, the Comox Valley has been impacted greatly by the opioid crisis and has seen a significant increase in the number of drug-related deaths, as well as above average substance abuse-related deaths.

• Illicit drug overdose rates increased from 7.5 per 100,000 in 2015 to 24.2 per 100,000 in 2017.

• Substance abuse-related deaths were 132 per 100,000 in the Comox Valley, as compared to 111 per 100,000 for B.C. overall.

Last year, United Way helped establish the Valley’s first health network and helped secure $80,000 per year from Island Health for the next three years to fund initiatives that address the social determinants of health (i.e. income, child development, transportation). United Way also funds health workshops and counselling programs for adults with addictions and chronic illness.

“Although Vital Signs shows that the Comox Valley continues to face many challenges – especially around affordable housing, homelessness and addictions – we do see positive shifts happening in the community,” says Signy Madden, executive director of United Way Central & North Vancouver Island. “When it comes to solving these critical issues, there is no silver bullet; United Way will continue to convene local stakeholders and invest in community programs that are making change happen one step at a time.”

By producing a new report every few years, the Comox Valley Vital Signs identifies trends and patterns in areas critical to quality of life: standard of living, safety and security, health, lifelong learning, housing, transportation, arts and culture, and work and economy. Data is gathered from Island Health, Census data and other local research sources already collecting data.

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