Mid-Island homeless report only the start of advocacy

A one-day survey of homeless people in District 69 found 68, but there are probably more.

There are an estimated 68 people considered homeless in District 69 — but probably more.

There are an estimated 68 people considered homeless in District 69 — but probably more.

Sue Powell is certain there are more people without a place to live in District 69 than a recent survey on the homeless has found.

Powell is the chairperson of the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness and even she admits their work only scratches the surface of the problem here.

“I feel the number is under-counted,” she said Thursday, commenting on the fact the task force found 68 people willing to be surveyed.

The survey was held on one day only, and reached only certain people from Nanoose Bay to Deep Bay, Parksville to Whiskey Creek.

So-called sofa-surfers are one part of the group that was mostly missed, according to a task force press release.

So, Powell — a social services worker and City of Parksville councillor — knows there are others who did not take part.

“There are some people who won’t come in for one reason or another,” she explained, noting that some people fear leaving the space they do have, for fear it be taken over or lost in some way.

“People who are homeless also often don’t want to be in the spotlight.”

Taken on May 30, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. — including extra days to visit food banks and soup kitchens — the survey  counted 38 adults and five children considered to be “absolutely homeless.” Another 25 people are considered to be at risk of homelessness.

Powell could not go into the specific details of why people are homeless in Oceanside, citing confidentiality. She did say the top two reasons given were the cost of homes in the region (top answer) and social and emotional challenges.

“I’m not surprised about how many people are homeless here,” she said, noting however other people who have seen the report are shocked at the amount.

That means, Powell continued, the work of the task force is far from over.

In addition to planned community information sessions in October, she said the city and the Salvation Army will seek more funding to open an extreme weather shelter. The Sally Anne had the shelter running this past winter, and Powell said they want to find more resources from the provincial government to open it again this fall and winter — from November through March, 2012.

The task force, which was started in March 2010, will also seek resources — both local and provincial — for “an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team for the Oceanside region. ACT teams provide outreach services for those struggling with addiction or mental illnesses and assist clients to find a decent place to live and have a better chance to turn around their lives.”

Powell added she wants to push for new social housing in the region, and follow a model of helping the homeless that has been established in Ontario. Simply put, it’s getting the homeless into homes, then providing them with support so they can stay there and overcome the challenges that led to them becoming homeless in the first place.

“They’ve been through hell,” Powell said.

She added municipal representatives who took part in this effort will also make presentation to provincial government ministers at next month’s Union of B.C. Municipalities conference.

Overall,  Powell said she’s pleased by the report and with the support by local organizations like the city, Salvation Army, Society of Organized Services, Manna Ministries and others.

She did add, however, that the completion of the report is only the beginning — education of the public, she said, is a big next step.