COMOX VALLEY, B.C. – When it comes to the housing crisis and homelessness in BC. , the tentacles are far reaching.

And the Comox Valley and Campbell River are feeling the squeeze.

Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness coordinator Andrea Cupelli said homelessness has “worsened” in the valley.

“I think that outreach workers and folks at the coalition, (and) the service agency providers who are providing services to people experiencing homelessness would say it’s getting worse.”

The numbers support Cupelli’s statement.

A point-in-time count preliminary report found that 117 people experienced homelessness in the Comox Valley compared to 101 in 2016, an increase of 13 per cent in the past two years, and that 68 individuals experienced absolute homelessness compared to 60 in 2016, marking a 12 per cent increase.

A hot housing market and a low vacancy rate have challenged people from all walks of life, according to Cupelli.

She said the struggle to find affordable housing is “everywhere” in the North Island.

“I think there are a lot of compounding issues happening all at once in our community and other communities,” Cupelli said. “Increasing housing costs, the rental costs, there’s an opioid crisis happening, even here. It’s just compounded everywhere.”

So what’s the solution?

In late May, a public meeting was held at Courtenay Council Chambers regarding rezoning 988 8th Street to provide supportive housing for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

The City of Courtenay will lease city-owned land to BC Housing, and the provincial government will fund the construction and operating costs of the project, which encompasses 46 units of housing with 24/7 support for people experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues, or having challenges finding shelter for long periods of time.

In a letter, Cupelli and John Howard Society North Island executive director Wendy Richardson noted that supportive housing enables people to “transition to more stable, independent living by providing longer-term housing with individualized support services.”

Cupelli would like to see funding for a “continuum” of housing solutions for folks in the Comox Valley, from shelter beds to transitional units that people would use for a certain period of time while they’re in recovery, to low-cost rentals.

“Everyone has a right to safe and secure housing,” Cupelli said. “It’s one of our basic needs and to recognize each other, to have that sense of humanity, we all need a place to go home to. That’s the most primal need that we all have. And I believe that everyone deserves that no matter where they are in their lives or what their circumstances are.”

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