Editorial: On the right path to address homelessness

This housing first model can only help.

Progress is never as fast as some would like, but we’re moving in the right direction.

COVID-19 has been good for one thing: it has expedited both organization and money to get the homeless off the streets of our communities and into some kind of shelter.

The initial homeless tent camps and hotel rooms were a good first step, giving homeless folks a consistent place to lay their heads where they could stay dry and out of the worst of the weather. No longer were people left to their own devices to maybe string a tarp between a couple of bushes in an area of brush off the beaten path, or to huddle in the doorway of a business. No doubt organizing people into the tent camps or hotel rooms also helped to make meaningful contact with these people and help to quantify just how many individuals are in the most dire need of housing in our communities.

Over time, many have been moved into hotels or other buildings, leaving only two of the original five tenting sites still in operation. Now, with the advent of winter, more money has been secured to build small cabins to replace the tents. This is another good step for those who have been weathering our winter storms sheltered by nothing but canvas and nylon.

The real light at the end of the tunnel is the two supportive housing developments that are on the way in Duncan and North Cowichan that will provide more permanent shelter for 100 people, along with opportunities to help them rebuild their lives.

This Housing First model can only help.

There have always been a certain number of homeless people in our communities. But there is no doubt that the problem has exploded in recent years. This has been a blight not only on the lives of those who have found themselves living on the street, but also for those of us who live alongside them. Warmland House quickly found itself unable to keep up with the demand either in its nightly shelter or transitional units. It could not offer all of the mental health, addiction services and other supports that are so desperately needed if we are to tackle the root causes of the problem.

Our community has never had a system in place to one, give people basic permanent shelter; two, offer supports that address what led to them living on the streets, whether that is simply the loss of a job or a more pernicious mental health or addiction issue; and three, transition people, back on their feet, into regular life. Realistically, some people will continue to need lifelong support and will not transition out. But the calculation is this: would you rather trip over that person on the sidewalk in front of your home or business or know that they have a place to call home?

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