A new report out of the Sooke region highlights a lack of services and supports available for those at risk of and already experiencing homelessness in rural communities.
With very little research ever done on the region, homelessness in Sooke has gone vastly unnoticed. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit and the region’s first chronic homelessness shelter was erected that people began to notice.
Although a comprehensive count is not available, 37 Sooke residents were identified as homeless in the Greater Victoria 2020 Point in Time Count, 73 people in the first six months of 2020 at the Sooke Shelter Society and, in a survey on hidden homelessness, 46 people indicated they felt at risk of homelessness. It is not clear whether there is overlap between the three sources.
Because there are often no shelters available in rural areas, homelessness regularly takes the form of people sleeping in vehicles or on couches. On the night of March 11, 2020, when the Point in Time count took place, 49 per cent of those surveyed spent the night at someone else’s place, 24 per cent slept outdoors unsheltered, 16 per cent slept in vehicles and less than 15 per cent slept somewhere else. Of those, 41 per cent identified as Indigenous.
Of the 73 clients of the Sooke Shelter Society, the majority (74 per cent) were unhoused, while 26 per cent were facing hardship or poverty. Hidden homelessness refers to people who are living in precarious situations, such as struggling to afford rent or couch surfing. According to Statistics Canada, nearly one in 10 Canadians experience hidden homelessness at some point in their lives.
To better capture this, a survey was distributed in the Sooke region in September 2020. Of the 46 respondents, 74 per cent said they would ask for help if they felt close to homelessness but only 50 per cent said they knew what services existed in Sooke. Those who said they would seek help gave reasons such as “I never realized one or two major events could throw me in that category” and “I don’t want to end up on the street.” Those who said they wouldn’t said they didn’t know of services or didn’t like the idea of having to be on the receiving end.
The report concluded with seven recommendations focusing on the need for a housing first approach, more transitional and affordable housing, a centralized location for services in Sooke, better relationships with First Nations communities and increased investment in local services.
Multiple interviews in the report revealed unhoused people are fearful that when the threat of the pandemic passes, they will be left behind. This week, B.C. Housing announced it will extend the Sooke homeless shelter lease from the end of March to the end of April.
The full report can be read at sookeregionchn.org.
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