Greater Victoria non-profit housing provider Pacifica Housing is broadening its outreach for people at risk of homelessness with a new Housing Crisis Prevention program.
“We want to get out in front of this, and provide supports before people become homeless,” says executive director Dean Fortin. “The easiest way to help a homeless person is not to have them get homeless in the first place.”
Pacifica Housing offers affordable, supportive and subsidized housing for 2,000 residents from Nanaimo to Victoria, including low income families, people with disabilities and with mental health and addiction challenges.
“A lot of our residents, they’re working,” Fortin explains. “But they’re also working at $15 an hour, maybe trying to raise a couple of kids.”
Krysten O’Coffey, housing intervention worker at Pacifica, is heading up the program, which extends outreach services to individuals inside the housing provider’s network.
“Our programming hasn’t actually extended to families until now,” says O’Coffey, herself a former single mother of three. “We identified that we have a gap in our services where we are not actually [providing] one-on-one support to individuals that are living in our own complexes and our own buildings.”
Fortin points to a widening gap between the rich and poor, saying pressure builds when wage increases don’t match food cost increases. “BC Hydro costs have gone up 25 per cent in the last four years – these challenges are there.”
The goal of the new program is to get a handle on factors that could result in evictions, in order to keep families safely housed. Strengthening life skills, developing better coping strategies and building independence are vital for people in the transition from homelessness to stable housing, where Pacifica would like to see them stay.
“A lot of people just get used to a pretty low level of quality of life,” O’Coffey says. “And that’s the sad reality, there’s never enough money and there’s never enough food.”
Working with families she’s found that support services are often activated only after an extreme crisis or when homelessness is imminent. She says that’s reflective of a pretty big problem that we have in Victoria. “It’s okay to ask for support when it’s just a little bit hard.”
Funding for the program is a joint effort between Pacifica, the City of Victoria, United Way and the Victoria Real Estate Board.
One of the goals is to prove the project is necessary and stable, but the outreach team says there is already every indication from their work with tenants that a program like this is needed. In Greater Victoria, the Point in Time Count reported 123 children were homeless in 2016, up from 116 in 2014.
“Anything we can do to help support tenants to succeed, to be good parents, good community members, to allow children to reach their potential, that’s really important to us,” Fortin says.
“It’s not just housing, it’s an opportunity to succeed. It’s turning housing into homes.”