Some still skeptical of regional housing plan for West Shore

Regional plan to end homelessness takes another step forward at CRD level

Another step has been taken towards ending visible homelessness in the region.

Last week the Capital Regional Hospital District Board, with representatives from the West Shore, voted in favour of conducting a feasibility study on the Regional Housing First Strategy and postponed ruling on other recommendations until the completion of that study by staff.

Capital Regional District Board chair Nils Jensen said that report is expected to be completed in December and at that time decisions will be made on the rest of the motion. He said the study would look at the overall legal frame work of the proposal as well as the feasibility of it.

“This is the first step in a long process,” he said, adding there are many steps that need to be taken when dealing with homelessness and the board realizes they must be completed in order.

“This process will be a marathon.” Jensen compared what was accomplished last week to completing only the first 100 meters of that marathon. “There are many complexities.”

But Jensen was optimistic. “There’s consensus on the board that this is a regional problem that needs to have a regional solution.” He said a number of groups within the region are already targeting homelessness but “it’s a matter of coordinating our efforts.”

Langford Coun. Denise Blackwell felt the proposal was still lacking crucial information. “There was very little information that came with it,” she said. “It wasn’t very clear, which is why it went back to staff.”

Blackwell, who is a director on the Capital Regional District Board and Hospital Board as one of Langford’s representatives, also wasn’t convinced the hospital board should be the ones reviewing the motion. “I don’t think that’s the appropriate place for it.” She said there is already funding available for housing but not from the hospital board. She said staff was going to analyze the proposal and if necessary re-direct it.

“Hopefully, when it comes back it’ll go to one of those more appropriate places,” she said.

If the board decides to continue with the proposal they will then most likely determine which of two avenues will be most beneficial to pursue said Jensen. The first avenue would see the project taken through the provincial hospital district, which will have the housing units designated as health facilities. If they do not get this designation they will not receive funding warned Jensen. This avenue would require the provincial government to take on a very active role.

The second avenue would be through the main board, which Jensen said would essentially be through the housing corporation, a different provincial ministry. This would require a different type of cooperation that would be less active from the provincial government.

But it is still early in the process and further action will not be taken until the feasibility study is completed.

Victoria council voted in favour of forwarding this housing strategy to the CRD for consideration back in September. The proposal originally called for an estimated $50 million to be levied, the equivalent to roughly $11.18 per household in the region, to build 367 units of new housing with support services. That number of units is estimated to represent the number of chronic shelter users. But the figure that went before the hospital board last week in a recommendation was $30 million to build an initial 185 new units of supportive housing.

Before the proposal was forwarded to the CRD some elected officials on the West Shore voiced concerns regarding a regional housing strategy and how it would be able to address homelessness in the very diverse areas of the region, especially on the West Shore which historically has seen different issues relating to homelessness than other areas such as Victoria.

Blackwell, who chairs Langford’s Planning, Zoning and Affordable Housing Committee, said on the West Shore we see more issues relating to families and access to affordable housing, not necessarily people sleeping in parks.