Comox Valley, BC – Assessing the overall health of our region, the 2018 Comox Valley Vital Signs report was released last week to measure how the Comox Valley is doing as a place to live, learn, work and grow. This report – an important tool that informs United Way’s investment decisions – identifies trends and patterns in all areas critical to the quality of life of our community, providing data to drive action for improvement.

The 2018 Comox Valley Vital Signs is a partnership between the Comox Valley Community Foundation, United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island, The Comox Valley Social Planning Society and North Island College. The Comox Valley is one of several communities across Canada to release a local Vital Signs report this month. The full report can be found here.

“By tracking the health of the community, we’re able to see where improvements need to be made and action needs to be taken,” says Bill Anglin, United Way Central & North Vancouver Island board member and Comox resident. The knowledge we gain from participating in Vital Signs and Point-in-Time homeless counts allows United Way to invest donor dollars in programs and initiatives with the greatest impact. We are able to provide leadership that effectively targets social change to improve the health and happiness of our community.”

Vital Signs is part of a national initiative that was launched in 2006 by the Community Foundations of Canada. In 2013, 26 community foundations from across Canada participated in the program. This is the second time the Vital Signs report has been conducted in the Comox Valley.

“United Way convinced the Comox Valley Community Foundation to undertake the first local Vital Signs report in 2016,” says Norm Carruthers, Comox Valley Community Foundation board member. “I believe the 2018 report will be of great value to the community once again, and I am so thankful to United Way for their leadership. The Comox Valley is better for their initiative.”

Highlights from the 2018 Comox Valley Vital Signs Report

Housing and Homelessness

There was an overall decrease in housing starts, which when combined with a significant increase in housing costs and lack of rental units for families, has shown a negative impact on access to affordable housing in the Comox Valley.

  • Housing starts decreased by 22.3% (374 in 2015 to 293 in 2017).
  • Benchmark single-family home sale prices increased by 62.3%.
  • Benchmark apartment sale prices increased by 94.3%.
  • Rental vacancy rates in Courtenay are 2.4% overall, however, 3+ bedrooms are 0% and 2 bedrooms are at 1.9%, making it impossible for families to find appropriate rentals.
  • 4% of renter households spend 30% or more of their income on housing.
  • 20% of renter households spend 50% or more of their income on housing.
  • Between 2013 and 2018 there was a 250% increase in the number of households on the BC Housing waitlist.

Despite the negative impacts of the housing market, the Comox Valley actually saw a decrease in the number of homeless residents, and a lower poverty rate than the provincial average. That being said, there is more demand for homeless shelter beds than ever before.

  • Point-in-Time homeless count numbers decreased overall in 2018, but homeless seniors (55+) make up an alarmingly high 29% of the entire local homeless population.
  • Extreme weather response shelter data shows a 135.2% increase in the number of mats used by males between 2017 and 2018.

In 2018, United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island convened 29 local social service agencies to form the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness. The group lobbied for supportive housing, and this year 46 supportive housing units (the first ever in Comox) are under construction and scheduled to open in 2019. United Way also helped support the 2018 Point-in-Time homeless count in the Comox Valley and continues to fund local programs that provide food bank baskets, financial tutoring to help people move out of poverty, and adult literacy programs for people experiencing homelessness.

Community Health

Unfortunately, the Comox Valley has been impacted greatly by the opioid crisis and has seen a significant increase in the number of drug-related deaths, as well as above average substance abuse-related deaths.

  • Illicit drug overdose rates increased from 7.5 per 100,000 in 2015 to 24.2 per 100,000 in 2017.
  • Substance abuse-related deaths were 132 per 100,000 in the Comox Valley, as compared to 111 per 100,000 for British Columbia overall.

Last year United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island helped establish Comox Valley’s first health network and helped secure $80,000 per year from Island Health for the next three years to fund initiatives that address the social determinants of health (i.e. income, child development, transportation). United Way also funds local health workshops and counselling programs for adults with addictions and chronic illness.

“Although Vital Signs shows that the Comox Valley continues to face many challenges – especially around affordable housing, homelessness and addictions – we do see positive shifts happening in the community,” says Signy Madden, Executive Director of United Way Central & North Vancouver Island. “When it comes to solving these critical issues, there is no silver bullet; United Way will continue to convene local stakeholders and invest in community programs that are making change happen one step at a time.”

By producing a new report every few years, the Comox Valley Vital Signs identifies trends and patterns in areas critical to quality of life: standard of living, safety and security, health, lifelong learning, housing, transportation, arts and culture, and work and economy. The data is gathered from Island Health, Census data and other local research sources already collecting data.

Jamie Moore

Communications Officer, United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island