On May 22nd, 2018 a public hearing was held at the Courtenay Council Chambers to hear from the community about rezoning 988 8th Street to provide supportive housing for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The City of Courtenay will lease city-owned land to BC Housing. The provincial government will fund the construction and operating costs of the project, and The John Howard Society of North Island has been selected to provide onsite staff and oversee day to day operations of the housing.

At the hearing there were speakers expressing both support and opposition to the project. There was also considerable misinformation about what supportive housing is, who might be housed there, and how it may impact the community. The Coalition to End Homelessness and John Howard would like to address some of the misinformation and hopefully relieve some of the distress about housing homeless people. Here are some things to know about supportive housing.

Supportive housing enables people to transition to more stable, independent living by providing longer-term housing with individualized support services. It is not temporary “crisis” housing but provides homes to those who require additional supports to progress with positive changes in their lives and to maintain their housing. This support will come in the form of staff who will be on site at the housing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and from other community services. The building will be a three-story modular (factory-built) structure with 46 units of supportive housing. These studio units will include a bathroom, kitchenette and will be safe, secure and self-contained, with shared amenity spaces such as laundry facilities and meeting space. It will have covered outside space on the property for residents.

Some of the residents may be living with mental health and substance use challenges and some may be experiencing other barriers that have influenced their ability to acquire and maintain housing. Before entering supportive housing, prospective tenants are assessed to ensure they are eligible, and understand and agree to the expectations for participation and behaviour.

The housing support staff who work at the building are there to provide basic life skills, support and coaching, to help tenants stabilize their lives, reconnect with the community, and enhance their independent living skills. They come to know each tenant well and then work with them to address any behaviour that may negatively impact the local neighbourhood. Support staff will also refer tenants to other offsite community services such as counselling, employment searches, skill-building, educational opportunities, and treatment services.

Existing agencies in our community providing treatment services are committed to collaborating with John Howard to find the most appropriate treatment services for a tenant when needed. There is no fixed time for people to be in supportive housing and they are encouraged to move to stable, independent housing when they are ready.

A Community Advisory Committee consisting of residents of the neighbourhood, and including those who live in supportive housing, will be formed in order to assist with successful integration of the housing into the neighbourhood. The Committee will be formed during the design and construction phase and will continue with regular meetings with neighbours to address and remedy any concerns about the operation of the site.

At the public hearing many people expressed concerns about current tenting, needles, and inappropriate behaviour already occurring in the neighbourhood surrounding the property to be re-zoned. The Coalition believes this supportive housing has the potential to alleviate some of these concerns, not exacerbate them. Some examples of successes in a recent study give us an idea of the potential of supportive housing in the neighbourhood and in the community in general.

A 2017 study in BC (defining Success for Supportive Housing Projects in BC) held focus groups with four supportive housing projects (3 in Vancouver and 1 in Kelowna). Many common themes emerged regarding how they define success. Successes for tenants were defined as maintaining housing, improved health outcomes; tenants who experience addictions using less or not at all; tenants engaging in their community in a meaningful way (volunteering, employment, taking a class); tenants developing social networks; tenants setting and working towards achieving goals; tenants solving problems more independently; tenants feeling safe in their units, building and neighbourhood and tenants developing life skills.

Success for the housing project included a sense of community developed among tenants; stability in the building/calm atmosphere; strong partnerships and communication with community agencies and minimal complaints from neighbours.

The Coalition will continue to focus on education and engagement so that dialogue can take place and fears and concerns can be addressed. Our goal is for residents of any neighbourhood to welcome supportive and social housing projects in their backyard. All of the Coalition’s service providers are committed to supporting previously homeless people to becoming very good neighbours and to take pride in their neighbourhood.

Thank you, Comox Valley, for caring about all the members of our community.

Andrea Cupelli, Coordinator, Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness Wendy Richardson, Executive Director, The John Howard Society North Island

Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness