What will it take?
In 2008 the then mayor of Courtenay, Starr Winchester, wrote these words in a letter prefacing the release of Homeless!, the report of the City of Courtenay Mayor’s Task Force on Breaking the Cycle of Mental Illness, Addiction and Homelessness in the Comox Valley:
“The issue of homelessness is complex and difficult to solve in isolation. We recognize that resolving this issue will require the co-operation and partnership of all levels of government as well as community partners.
“I strongly support the recommendations contained in this report and look forward to forming partnerships in order to address these very serious issues in our community.”
That was six years ago. The mayor expresses strong support for the recommendations of the Task Force, including using a Housing First approach (Google it!). These are laudable words from the former mayor, but the recommendations of the Task Force are a long way from being achieved. It’s not as if nothing has happened to deal with homelessness, mental health and addictions in the community, but we’re still just managing the problem and not really getting anywhere in ending homelessness and creating affordable housing.
I know our elected officials want to be fiscally responsible and I applaud them for that. To do the fiscally responsible thing now would be to implement a Housing First model and to create a CVRD service and a municipal non-profit society to manage and champion housing and service initiatives. We know that putting people in homes first and then providing them with adequate supports to deal with their physical and mental health issues is a lot cheaper than dealing with them in a homeless state. The Mayor’s Task Force made a strong case for doing the fiscally responsible thing and a very recent report from the Mayor of Vancouver suggests that for every $10 we spend on housing for the homeless we save $21on housing, medical and social costs.
So what’s the problem? Why can’t we move on this?
Well, it’s easy to say that we can save money by housing the homeless and provide affordable housing for those who need it, but whose budget will it come out of? If VIHA saves money by housing the homeless what does that do for the CVRD budget, or the Courtenay budget? Organizations can get very protective of their budgets and their capacity to initiate projects on their own. This approach doesn’t work anymore.
We’ve just got to get over this ‘silo’ thinking and heed former mayor Starr Winchester’s words about partnerships and co-operation and stop protecting ‘our’ budgets rather than thinking about the big picture.
The Comox Valley Regional District board just received the go-ahead to borrow $1.9 million to refurbish the curling rink using an alternate approval process (AAP). The AAP process means that an initiative will pass unless 10 per cent of voters in the Valley vote against it. If you don’t take the time to register your opposition to a CVRD initiative of this sort, it passes. There is no need for you to vote for it.
I have no problem with fixing up the curling rink, but I question why the CVRD board could not go the same route in dealing with the more modest proposal from the Comox Valley Housing Task Force to establish a service to deal with homelessness and build affordable housing. I realize that the Task Force proposed the question go to referendum but with a little will in the right direction, moving the question to the AAP could happen. Is curling a higher priority than housing the homeless?
Roger Albert is the vice-president of the Comox Valley Social Planning Society and Faculty Emeritus at North Island College. He is a columnist for the Comox Valley Record, addressing social issues within the community. His blog, dedicated to the issue, is rogeralbert.org