This lot on White Road in Duncan will be the site of a new supportive housing development. A similar facility will be built on Drinkwater Road in North Cowichan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Editorial: Give supportive housing the chance to work

Housing first is important, because it can help people to get out of survival mode

We hope that community members will give it a real chance.

In an editorial a few weeks ago we wondered what was going to happen to all the homeless people once the current COVID-19 emergency funding for temporary housing runs out. It took a pandemic to make it happen, but there was finally a move to find accommodations for all these folks, either in local motels or in temporary small tent encampments, rather than just leaving them to find a dry patch of pavement somewhere, string a tarp up in the bush, or hunker down by the Cowichan River where it runs through Duncan.

We have long championed the idea of housing first, so the announcement on June 18 that the province is building two supportive housing developments of 50 units each in Duncan and North Cowichan was very welcome news.

Housing first is important, because it can help people to get out of survival mode, and start to look at how they can get back on their feet. These units will also offer supports that many of these folks desperately need, including for mental health and addictions issues, and for employment prep.

Just cramming a lot of high-needs people into one spot and expecting them to fend for themselves and not bother the neighbours would have been a complete disaster. But supportive housing, with 24/7 staff, has proven very successful where it has been implemented, as noted by North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring. Paying rent to have their own space will give people a sense of ownership and safety.

In short, this is exactly what we’ve been needing in the Cowichan Valley.

Neighbours, in particular, are skeptical, and that’s fair. But we hope rather than rejecting the idea, and the new people moving to their area, out of hand, they will take the time to learn how this has worked in other communities. Siebring notes the success of a site in Parksville.

The province purchased the two sites, one at 260 White Rd., and the other at 2983 Drinkwater Rd., from private owners without consultation with the community, and some are upset about that. But realistically, there was no site they could have chosen that would have filled the needs they are trying to serve while making everyone in the community happy. And no, shoving people who have no transportation and are in need of public supports onto a rural property where they could be out of sight, out of mind, is not a viable solution. Haven’t we already been ignoring that they’re here long enough?

Evidence from other communities tells us this can work. Please Cowichan, give it a chance.

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