Embracing the challenges of homelessness in Victoria
Reprinted from "Housing and Homelessness" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 4 (1), pp. 33-34
A case study in community partnerships
Joe,* a person we have supported in the community for many years, had been struggling for years to find suitable housing, staying in various rooming houses and either getting evicted or becoming victimized and having to leave.
As team leader for Pacifica Housing Services, I provide support, guidance and mentoring to our terrific team of outreach workers and community support workers. Our job is to find housing for people who, for many reasons, cannot find appropriate housing on their own. Not everyone we assist to find housing is subsidized, but in certain cases a combination of subsidy and community support can lead to stability.
We meet people where they're at. This means that we believe in using a welcoming approach. We walk people through the entire process of securing housing, to make sure no barriers get in their way. Our services range from helping them apply for income assistance, going with the person to meet the landlord and helping them fill out standard Residential Tenancy Act application forms - to setting up damage deposits, helping them move and find furniture, and addressing any other barriers they face.
Once a person is housed, we stay connected with that person as needed, to ensure the tenancy remains stable. This is done by our community support worker and outreach program staff, who provide support and education to both the landlord and the tenant.
We have ongoing partnerships with private landlords, who have been fantastic in helping us provide housing for people who otherwise couldn't secure a place to call home.
We also have an ongoing partnership with the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) in providing subsidized, supported apartments to formerly homeless adults. VIHA funds some community support staff and repair and maintenance, as well as 20 "floating" rent supplements for private landlord settings. This collaboration is helped in that Pacifica shares its office property with staff from the health authority. Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance staff also share our space.
BC Housing provides the funding for our housing outreach staff. BC Housing also provides subsidies for people who meet criteria related to being homelessness and "at risk." Factors such as mental health issues, substance abuse issues, addictions, behaviour issues, culture of an individual, location (a consideration when, for example, someone is trying to stay away from an area to avoid contact with drug-involvement issues) and vulnerability are considered.
We keep a database of people who've done an intake form to describe their housing needs and the barriers they've experienced trying to secure housing. This helps us decide, in a fair process, who is the best fit for new subsidy programs or for vacancies that come up. Our landlord partners call us when they have vacancies instead of advertising in the paper, and we match what they have to offer with a person we feel would be a good fit in that particular setting.
Another way we support both the tenant and the landlord is by hiring clients who have been housed by our service and are stable in their situation. We hire them to help clean apartments when someone moves out, or to help keep someone housed by assuring the landlord the apartment is being kept clean.
We've heard countless stories from the people we serve about their struggles to find decent housing. The options are limited in a city where the average rent is often more than their entire income assistance cheque. The challenges are huge, but we have had great success with our housing programs thus far: 60% to 70% of the people housed in subsidized, supported units are still housed and are stable in their lives.
About the authorPhil is a team Leader/Housing Outreach Worker with Pacifica Housing Services, a division of non-profit housing provider Pacifica Housing Advisory Association. He finds and establishes relationships with private landlords in the Greater Victoria community who are willing to work with Pacifica.