Inadvertently revealing the province’s level of commitment to helping B.C.’s most vulnerable populations, the Ministry of Energy and Mines has declared this week Homelessness Action Week. While you might be wondering why the basics of food and shelter are lumped in with hydro dams and big holes in the ground, this week Burnside Gorge Housing Outreach worker Tory Kincross has some more immediate concerns.
Kincross and her colleagues work with hundreds of homeless and at-risk families in the capital whose lives, by and large, have not been improving. Faced with increasingly scattered services, smaller food hampers and a rising cost of living, a growing number of families in need are finding themselves closer than ever to the street.
This struggle plays out daily in hundreds of homes across the capital, but the truly astounding part is that we just don’t notice it. “Whether it’s because of families themselves not wanting to present the image of being in need, or whether it’s the fact that we’re not tripping over these people on the streets, nobody really wants to talk about the issue,” says Kincross.
The cause here is almost routine for most of us — renters, politicians, the Victoria Vital Signs survey, and common sense all confirm that the cost of living in the capital gleefully defies reason — and the effect, says Kincross, is equally predictable. When you can afford either rent or food, too often the only real choice is the one that keeps a roof over your head.
“This is a symptom of the huge issue of affordable housing and sustainable income,” says Kincross.
For her, the solution is to place money into the hands of families and help them to control their own lives rather than perpetually relying on emergency services.
“It’s about can we stabilize housing and particularly the cost of housing for people,” agrees Victoria Councilor Chris Coleman, who stresses the need for long-term and transition housing over more short-term solutions. “You can’t solve profound housing and homelessness issues with snappy quotes, because all you get are short-term, one-week solutions. We’re looking for systemic change.”
Perhaps the solution has something to do with offering families help before they make it to the street, or maybe not just stuffing them under whatever ministry has space left over at the end of the day. M