Survey gives a face to local homelessness

Last month’s Cowichan homelessness survey will be used as a benchmark to gather further information on the state of the issue in this community. - Andrew Leong/file
Last month’s Cowichan homelessness survey will be used as a benchmark to gather further information on the state of the issue in this community.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

Cowichan has at least 250 people who are either homeless, or flirting with homelessness.

The good news is less than 60 of them are actually living on the street. The bad news is it is unclear how many were missed in a February Social Planning Cowichan homelessness survey, or how they can be helped.

The need for higher and more regular incomes, and more affordable housing available in Cowichan were the top priorities outlined by the people who were surveyed.

More than 70% stated the high cost of housing was behind their not having a place to call home.

“It is clear that affordability is the critical factor that is causing homelessness in our region,” said SPC affordable housing co-ordinator Joy Emmanuel.

The count was conducted during a three-day period by more than 40 volunteers with the Regional Affordable Housing Directorate of Social Planning Cowichan.

Of the 259 individuals surveyed, 22% (58) said they were absolutely homeless and living on the street, 29% (76) were relatively homeless and staying in temporary accommodation and 48% (125) were precariously housed in insecure or unstable living conditions.

Of the absolutely and relatively homeless, more than 60% had been without housing for more than a year and 75 to 85% reported having at least one health condition.

Emmanuel noted the numbers of people who fell into the absolute homelessness category were lower than anticipated, but things like the cold weather and not being able to cover all corners of the rural regions were considered as possible factors.

“Many homeless counts are done in urban centres, but we’re a largely rural area here,” she said. “What are the chances we can connect with everyone?”

Of the 58 surveyed who were absolutely homeless, 79% were men, 60% were over age 50, 52% had a medical condition, and 26% were Aboriginal.

From those participants, 72% lost housing because they couldn’t afford rent, while 24% stated addiction, 18% relationship breakdown, 16% family conflict, and 16% eviction as reasons they didn’t have a home.

Those in the relative homelessness and precarious housing categories were both made up of 58% men.

Of the relatively homeless, 59% were Aboriginal, 34% had an addiction, 34% a mental health condition, 34% a disability, and 53% were on income assistance.

Emmanuel couldn’t say whether or not Cowichan’s homelessness population is a growing problem, has gotten better or is about the same.

“It’s a hard question to answer from just one count,” she said.

She also said solutions to survey results are in the works.

“Give us a couple months,” she said. “This is the next conversation that needs to happen.”

The RAHD will present the full results at a public meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at the Island Savings Centre's Somenos Room.

An executive summary is available now and the full report will be available in early April for download at

In 2007, SPC founded the RAHD as a central body bringing together interested stakeholders from all backgrounds.

The RAHD completed a Regional Affordable Housing Strategy in 2010.

Both parties are currently in the process of creating an Affordable Housing Society for the Cowichan Region.

In addition to working on homelessness prevention, the Directorate is engaged in developing resources and programs to facilitating the creation of more affordable housing in the region.

“In some respect, the positive in this really is seeing the response from the broader community,” said Emmanuel. “The numbers are not so outrageous, these people have faces and are known, and the community is aware.”

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