By Rita Button
It’s Reverend Al’s fault—he started talking about homelessness being legislated. Doing some research after listening to him, I found the relatively old idea of Annual Guaranteed Income, a concept currently enjoying some resurgence. I thought it might be the solution to poverty and its nearly immediate consequence of homelessness. Without any real education, experience, or skill, I started talking about my “one size fits all” solution to homelessness.
M.L.A. for Esquimalt-Metchosin, Mitzi Dean, didn’t seem to agree with my single solution when I talked to her one sunny afternoon in September. She figured that one size doesn’t fit all, and while a committee is working on Annual Guaranteed income, Mitzi was more interested in revealing the current progress regarding homelessness and “precarious housing”.
So, I put my narrow view on the side and listened to what Mitzi Dean had to say.
The provincial government is seriously working on the challenges of dealing with the causes of homelessness while simultaneously building appropriate housing in appropriate places.
To help evaluate and shape the programs they’re initiating, they have counted the homeless. Working with municipalities, the province has gathered evidence and identified problems existing in specific communities so that they can find workable solutions. Although causes and solutions are often similar in various communities, it is more effective to meet challenges in each community instead of using one blanket to cover all. As well, Mitzi reminded me that not all homeless people are on the pavement. Some are couch surfing or finding temporary solutions for what sometimes becomes a long term problem.
The words “precarious housing” surfaced frequently while Mitzi talked about issues and how to respond. “Removing the barriers” was another well-used phrase. The province is very aware of safety issues, for those who do not have a place to call home, but Mitzi seemed particularly concerned with young adults and children. She referred to the poverty reduction act, Bill 39, passed in the fall of 2018 whose target—in five years—is to decrease the overall poverty rate in the province by 25% and child poverty by 50%. The Act requires progress reports to be given annually. http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/18040/search/CIVIX_DOCUMENT_ROOT_STEM:(poverty%20reduction)?2
The acts have been legislated not only for Income Assistance but also for minimum wage. These supports will contribute to people being able to become self-sufficient and begin to loosen the grips of the poverty trap.
Transitioning from street life to apartment living or group housing is not always easy. It’s unreasonable to expect people to know how to live together when they’ve been foraging for their survival in whatever way they can. Mitzi assured me that some facilities use the concept of wraparound to help people understand ways of getting along, of discovering how helping others also becomes a way of helping themselves. Rain City Housing https://www.raincityhousing.org/about/programs/ a group in charge of certain buildings on the main land, is composed of teams of medical doctors, councilors and nurses who are available to help residents overcome challenging situations, often resulting in a person’s ability to interact effectively with others. Using wraparound organizations such as Rain Tree goes a long way to ensure people who have lived precariously can become integrated into a way of life in which they can be responsible for themselves while learning to interact positively with others.
Finding and making appropriate housing available is not just about the totally homeless; it’s also about those who have a home but not enough food, or those whose circumstances have become straitened to a point where they need to find a more affordable place to live.
Housing Hub https://www.bchousing.org/housinghub is one way of creating new affordable spaces and places for many, in this case, mostly middle income families. Housing Hub will work with individuals and organizations, creating partnerships to connect available land to low cost financing along with experts in land development to build affordable rental or home ownership possibilities. New buildings are what Housing Hub is about, but in creating affordable home opportunities, rental spaces can be freed for others who need them and who are still short of a down payment.
In the same way, new residences at universities such as the new dormitory building at University of Victoria slated to begin in 2020 and completed by 2023 will free suites once occupied by students for others who could use that place. Many affordable housing units have been built or are in the process of being built in the province, including new builds on Indigenous land. The province is translating their words into actions, continuing to tackle the causes of poverty and safe housing while building places where people can finally feel they’re truly home.
For people over sixty with low or moderate income, SAFER is available to give rental assistance. To apply for assistance from SAFER, an application can be downloaded https://www.myformsfinder.com/index.jhtml?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI_7jmzaXR5AIVyh-tBh1fKgEZEAAYAiAAEgLt5vD_BwE or just google SAFER. As well, a paper form can be requested by phoning them at 604-433-2218 or 1-800-257-7756.
Mitzi is very enthusiastic with the provincial government’s action on establishing ways for people to find places to live. Over the next ten years, they are committed to investing $6.6billion into affordable housing. Their goal is to make sure families, seniors, as well as women and children who are enduring violent circumstances find safe and affordable places to live. Their inclusion in safe neighbourhoods will allow them to begin their transformation into self-reliant people.
It’s a tough challenge. “Housing first” seems to be the mantra of those who have worked and researched the needs. It’s about more than money, although money is needed. It’s also about being able to understand the value of human beings and the wealth each brings to another person’s life.