Victoria’s mayor wants people to open their homes to those sleeping in parks and their cars because they can’t afford or find accommodation.
Lisa Helps said residents in the city opened their homes to workers during the Second World War and people should consider doing it again for the hundreds of people who can’t find a place to stay.
In a post on her blog, Helps cited local newspaper headlines from the 1940s urging Victoria residents to open their homes to homeless workers participating in the war effort.
“Now we have a different crisis on our doorstep,” she wrote.
“What if there was a way to connect people living in vehicles, in motel rooms, on couches, with seniors living in large houses all alone, with retirees with an extra bedroom, or even with families with large houses and extra rooms. Unthinkable? Victorians stepped up to help out their neighbours in the past.”
Helps said in the past five years, 6,000 people have moved to Victoria but housing has been in short supply.
The city’s vacancy rate stood at 0.5 per cent last December and the city has looked at a number of possible solutions to the housing crunch.
City council considered a moratorium Thursday on apartment building demolitions to ease the tight rental market.
Last year, council also considered erecting semi-permanent structures for homeless people in certain parks but the idea was met with resistance by local residents.
The lawn at Victoria’s law courts became a homeless camp last year before the B.C. Supreme Court shut it down over unsafe conditions.
Social advocacy and housing groups say the mayor’s plan is well-meaning in a time of crisis, but all levels of government must do more to provide housing in a city with sky-high rents.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said Kelly Newhook, executive director of the Together Against Poverty Society. “It’s a lovely idea in theory and if it works for some people that’s great.”
She said Helps has highlighted the dire need for more housing in Victoria, but her group wants all levels of government to step in to provide more social and rental housing. She said social assistance rates in B.C. also have not increased since 2007.
“Some social housing has come online, but we need more when the federal government hasn’t been invested in that since 1985,” Newhook said. “We have this vacancy rate that’s at 0.5 per cent and rental rates that are just absolutely skyrocketing. This is not just a problem for people living in poverty. This is all incomes.”
The group helped more than 6,450 people with housing issues last year, and many of them were renters evicted from renovated properties that were later offered at higher rents, she said.
Kathy Stinson, chief executive director of Victoria’s Cool Aid Society, said Helps’s idea to open homes to the homeless is the start of a conversation.
“Somebody has to bring the idea up, so good on her for it,” said Stinson. “But let’s put some practicalities around that and think it through.”
The Cool Aid Society provides emergency shelter, supportive housing and health services for many of Victoria’s most vulnerable people. It operates three shelters and 13 housing buildings with 457 units.
Victoria’s council also recently considered repealing a bylaw that prevents people from sleeping in vehicles but left enforcement to police officers who say they use discretion when it comes to ticketing people in vehicles.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
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