Mark Muldoon, executive director for Threshold Youth Housing, tried to get 10 units for higher risk youth included in a new Greater Victoria Housing Society project being built on the property behind him off of Goldstream Avenue in Colwood. (Rick Stiebel/News Gazette staff)

OPINION: Province’s decision not to fund youth housing project disappointing, says local advocate

I want to thank the Goldstream Gazette and its reporters (Arnold Lim, Rick Steibel, Kendra Wong), who have been following a story on the possibility of the Threshold Housing Society – in conjunction with the Greater Victoria Housing Society – opening a 10-bed transitional housing facility (330 Goldstream Ave.) for youth at risk of being homeless in the West Shore.

The Greater Victoria Housing Society showed exemplary leadership and collaboration in offering and fostering this possibility to the West Shore communities. The site of their 100-unit affordable housing project is metres away from the regional office of the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD).

As in all new building developments, timing in regard to available funding is of the essence. Definitive costing for the project was not available until late March of this year and the Greater Victoria Housing Society needed assurance from Threshold that funding was in place for the long term.

Coupled with the election in May and the new government not sitting until September, timing was short. There was a deadline of Oct. 31 for Threshold to confirm, in principle, long-term funding which it sought from MCFD.

From Threshold’s perspective, a project of this size could have only gone forward with the long-term support from MCFD, whose mission is to ensure that some of our most vulnerable children and families have the best chances possible to succeed and thrive. This is especially true of youth exiting foster care at 19 and unaccompanied youth under the age of 19 regardless of whether or not such youth are on ministry youth agreements.

After the initial start-up year, the average operational cost for this program would have been approximately $550,000 per year for 24-hour supervision, life-skill development and transitional planning services.

Unfortunately, despite numerous failed attempts to meet with MCFD officials, Threshold received definitive word from Lise Erikson, executive director of service (South Island) for MCFD, that no such funding would be forthcoming.

Her letter states, in part, “We are not in a position to provide operational funding at this time or in the near future. Although we recognize the growing population in the West Shore and the rise in youth homelessness in Greater Victoria, we are currently focusing on providing housing supports to the youth we currently serve, and many of those are unable to live independently without significant adult supports in place.”

Regardless of the difficult timing, such a response is disappointing because: a) an opportunity to have a purpose-built housing facility for at-risk youth in the most strategic location in the West Shore is rare and not likely to happen again; b) the West Shore communities are some of the fastest growing municipalities in B.C. and the need for such services is supported by studies and surveys; c) the service Threshold offered to provide (youth transitional housing with adult support) was a service MCFD claims to require.

Youth in need of transitional housing in the West Shore will have to leave their neighbourhood and access limited spaces in the City of Victoria.

Mitzi Dean, MLA, has been a great and faithful advocate of this project since the NDP formed the new provincial government. Local support was also shown by Stew Young, mayor of Langford, Maureen Hobbs, chair of the Rotary club of West Shore, Ravi Parmar, SD 62 board chair, Bill McElroy, West Shore Task Force on Youth Housing, Joan Hoffman, Church of the Advent, the many students of Royal Bay and Belmont high schools and the City of Colwood.

If youth transitional housing services are to become a reality in the West Shore communities, residents, high school staff and the youth themselves need to raise the issue with local councillors, MLAs and neighbourhood associations.

To assist youth at risk of becoming homeless at this critical age in their lives is vital to ensuring they do not unwittingly fall into adult homelessness and poverty. Helping at-risk youth today, with all their resilience and dreams, creates healthier communities tomorrow.

Mark Muldoon is the executive director of the Threshold Housing Society.

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