New report suggests critical impact of homelessness on Victoria residents

With the cost of living index rising compared to incomes, the homelessness situation continues to have a critical impact on residents, according to a new report titled “Facing Homelessness.” The research is based in the Victoria area through a collaboration between the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. (CARBC) and The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. It finds that housing will continue to be a major concern while adjustments to supplements for housing costs have remained steady. The report also found that there is a gap of understanding around the assessments of the needs for youth and families. Also, the report publishes anecdotal observations by those most affected to reflect a degree of the impact of these stressors on the study’s severely impoverished participants.

Facing Homelessness outlines structural fractures (such as flat income increases compared to inflation) and systemic failures in our systems of care as areas of concern. When combined with personal circumstances, all of these elements contribute to problems for the “unique individuals” at risk. In a search of some fresh analysis, an upcoming symposium, Affordable Housing for Low Income People: Solutions and Challenges, has been planned to provide a forum for response to the report’s findings. The event takes place on Thursday, Oct. 17, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in UVic’s Cadboro Commons.

UVic’s Dr. Bernie Pauly will present “The Beginning and the End of Homelessness,” with discussion likely to centre on her research to do with rising numbers of working poor, and Dr. Penny Gurstein from UBC will present “The Future of Public Housing: Challenges and Opportunities.” A moderated panel discussion responding to the issues raised will precede a viewing of recent research posters. Participants may chat to the researchers through lunch, which is provided free for web-registered participants. Since most local housing agencies don’t use their limited resources to do academic research, they have been invited to demonstrate the projects they are working on. This adds a unique aspect to the event by providing some insight into action on the ground.

“These are such pressing issues for so many of the communities we live in here,” said Carolyn Fast, co-ordinator for the Pacific Housing Research Network (PHRN). “The passion comes from people’s interest areas, in finding answers to the problems, and how they go about discovering those answers.”

Social enterprise of this nature may be seen to challenge the idea of today’s age of austerity, with an increasing number of economic successes to measure its value. While poorly understood by the public, social enterprise requires a collaborative approach to obtain the consensus needed to move ahead. Public interest in social issues appears to be regrouping after the Occupy movement, with movies like Inequity for All raising concerns over a potential economic meltdown due to socio-economic disparities. Musician David Byrne is among voices objecting to the perceived rule of the one per cent of Canadians who control the greatest wealth, having published an essay in the Guardian on being a struggling artist in New York.

According to research in the book The Resilience Imperative by Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty, proposed benefits from improving the affordability of housing include greater distribution of income groups across the region. Speaking at Congress 2013 earlier this year, Lewis described an affordable housing project in Vancouver where the costs of development were reduced by 30 per cent through cutting out developer profit. This was possible because the City of Vancouver got on side to support construction of over 600 housing units by donating land into a trust. Savings on homeowners’ purchase costs have a direct feedback into the local economy, Lewis says, since interest payments make up over 30 per cent of current economic activity. In Victoria, a recent proposal for an affordable housing development, to be built in the Janion building on Store Street downtown, is based on land reportedly sold to developers by the federal government.

The PHRN plans to continue annual symposiums on the matter of housing in collaboration with UBC. “The idea of this new network is to look at a whole range of things from green sustainability, environmental sustainability and housing, different kinds of construction, and engineering, right through to the social policy issues dealing with all the things around that, like addiction and mental health issues,” said PHRN’s Fast. “Any number of topics could be covered in this theme.”

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