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Homelessness survivors call for reform at B.C. legislature

Report calls for 20K subsidized homes over next decade in Greater Victoria

WARNING: Some details in this story may be triggering

While working as a writer and outreach worker, it never crossed Cheri Jacobs’ mind that she could become homeless. But that became her reality for years as she had to live on the street, navigate shelters and couch surf.

But now, Jacobs says she’s doing amazing and it’s all because she was provided a secure home seven years ago.

Ensuring policy decisions involve people like Jacobs who have lived through or been affected by homelessness is one of eight calls to actions in a report released on Tuesday (May 7).

Backdropped by a pair of large banners on the steps of the B.C. legislature, the Housing Justice Project released its the report titled: Homes for All: Evaluating the Right to Housing in Victoria.

Members of the project – who together have 156 years of experience being unhoused – emphasized that all forms of homelessness are unsafe and shelters of all kinds do not amount to homes for those lacking a permanent place to live.

Speakers highlighted how unaffordable housing and evictions have made it easy to become homeless, but it’s hard for people to get back into housing once they’re caught in the cycle of constant displacement.

“However, we found a ray of hope,” said project member Bruce Livingstone. “Many of the problems outlined in this report can be resolved with an abundant supply of deeply affordable, subsidized social housing.”

The report calls for the construction of 2,000 of those subsidized spaces in Greater Victoria annually over the next decade, a measure the project says will only get the region caught up. The project’s members also met with Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon on Tuesday morning and said he was receptive to their calls.

Members of the Housing Justice Project like Cheri Jacobs, pictured here, released their report on homelessness in Victoria at the B.C. legislature on May 7. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

Jacobs is a Sixties Scoop survivor who was taken from her family at just four months old. That separation from her culture, people and language was the source of her mental health struggles that led to attempts of self-harm later in life.

“I’m part of the Housing Justice Project so I can teach people how colonialism causes homelessness,” she told those gathered at a legislature located on the grounds of a former Indigenous village.

Echoing another of the report’s main messages, Jacobs added that “reconciliation and homelessness cannot coexist.”

The Housing Justice Project says shelters should not be used as alternatives to adequate housing. It calls for eliminating long-term shelter stays by getting people into housing within 30 days and moving homeless folks directly into permanent housing instead of using transitional spaces.

Members of the Housing Justice Project released their report on homelessness in Victoria at the B.C. legislature on May 7. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

The report quotes one woman who went to shelter because she wanted to sleep as she recovered from surgery, but she had to leave first thing in the morning due to the site’s hours. Not being able to rest led to her returning to a tent city.

“What she needed was a real home, not a place with a bed that asked her to leave during the day,” said Toni Love, another project member.

She said their report outlines the living options for those trying to escape or recover from homelessness, and evaluated those options by using public data and hearing lived experiences. Love said shelters of all kinds and supportive housing do not meet human rights standards for adequate housing.

“These places do not keep us safe, they do not provide a springboard into stable housing, they are often unclean and lack many of the elements most people associate with a home,” Love said. “Shelters are not homes.”

The most recent point-in-time count found 1,665 people in Greater Victoria were experiencing homelessness. A survey conducted during that count also found 87 per cent wanted permanent housing, but they said that rents are too high, incomes are too low and there is a lack of available options.

Members of the Housing Justice Project like Toni Love, pictured here, released their report on homelessness in Victoria at the B.C. legislature on May 7. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

The project wants to see more rent supplements provided to offset market rental rates that have seen stark increases, and exceed the total monthly income of those making minimum wage or people who rely on disability assistance.

Victoria will be banning overnight sheltering in Irving and Vic West parks as of Aug. 1, so long as people in those spots first received an offer of indoor shelter or housing. The report said the city already banning sheltering between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. creates a cycle of displacement that disconnects prople from services, makes them more vulnerable to health issues and leads to their belongings being taken.

The project calls for the end of displacing people when adequate housing isn’t available, along with working with encampment residents to ensure they have basic necessities. Those were also among the calls homelessness advocates made to Victoria council recently.

READ: Victoria moves to end sheltering in 2 parks, permit new sites for homeless

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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