Interior of an outhouse, with a sign stating 'Danger Flammable' over the hole.

Demographics of the ‘Unsheltered’ and ‘At Risk’ on Cortes and Quadra Islands

There were at least 159 Cortes Island residents living in ‘unsheltered’ or ‘at risk’ conditions when they responded to the housing needs survey last spring. There was a smaller response on Quadra and the Outer Islands, so only 69 were identified. These are both low numbers. At one point during our interview Emma Wallace, who oversaw this project, suggested the actual number for Cortes might be 10% higher. So I guesstimate about 175 people in a population of about 1,100 are in unstable housing situations. (I do not believe there is enough data to make a serious guesstimate in Area C.)  

Wallace is employed by the Rural Development Network, which was commissioned to do this study by the Campbell River & District Coalition to End Homelessness and the Urban Indigenous Housing and Wellness Coalition. In today’s program she gives a demographic sketch of the unsheltered and at risk population.

“One of the things we do is break down demographics of all our survey respondents. So we ask them a series of questions that helps us identify who they are and what their experiences might be and how their experiences affect their housing,” explained Wallace.

Some of the garbage left at a ‘homeless’ camp in Campbell River – from a complaint sent to the City of Campbell River.

Racial Origins of the 77 Cortes residents in ‘unstable conditions’: 

  • the majority of Cortes respondents who identified their country of birth stated Canada. (66 respondents were born here; 11 were immigrants)
  • 58 folks identified as ‘white,’ 2 from a visible minority, and 10 as Indigenous. (2 of the 4 ‘Indigenous’ respondents were living in the Klahoose village; 1 stated ‘other Indigenous origins,’ 4 said Metis and 1 wrote ‘Inuit.’)

“Based on the demographics of survey respondents, we’re actually able to determine that Indigenous respondents are five times more likely to be housing unstable than their non-Indigenous counterparts,” said Wallace.

How long have they been on Cortes?

  • 12 of the 110 respondents, 7 of which are ‘unstable,’ have always lived on Cortes Island.  
  • Of the unstable group who weren’t born on Cortes, 24 moved the island to look for work or because they accepted a job offer. 12 followed family, 10 moved to look for housing, 6 live in the community seasonally. 

“What I find most interesting is that 47 people moved to Cortes Island for the lifestyle and the community that it offers. I say this as surprising, not because I don’t think anyone moved there for the lifestyle, but because we’ve never seen that before. That has never been one of our top five reasons people move to a community, in any of the surveys we’ve done before,” said Wallace.

Educational background:

  • 6% have some, but not all of their high school education,
  • 12% have either a high school diploma or their GED, 
  • 5% have an apprenticeship trade certificate diploma. 
  • 19% have a college certificate.  
  • 31% have a bachelor’s degree and then 6% have some sort of graduate degree (a Master’s, PhD, or medical degree).

“What’s maybe really interesting, at least to me, is that in Cortes 75% of unstable respondents indicated that they were employed. This is really interesting when you look at the fact that 71% of those folks reported an annual income of less than $30,000 a year,” said Wallace.

“If this many people are employed, how are we still struggling with income? And that really begs the question around what does a living wage look like?”

Racial Origins of the 30 ‘unstable’ Quadra respondents 

  • 21 respondents are born in Canada, 9 were immigrants
  • Everyone who responded to the survey on Quadra, stable or unstable,  identified as ‘white.’ No visible minorities took part in the survey
  • 3 people identified as ‘Indigenous.’ 

How long have they been on Quadra or the Outer Islands?

  • 9 respondents, 7 of which are unstable, have always lived in the community.  
  • Of the folks who moved there: 10 moved to look for work or because  they accepted a job offer, 6 followed family, 11 moved for housing. 

“Many respondents move for the lifestyle that the community offered and/or to care for aging family members, to manage their substance use and because they couldn’t afford to live where they were currently living,” said Wallace.

Quadra: Educational Background: 

  • 3% recorded having no formal education
  • 3% had some grade school, 
  • 10% having high school diploma. 
  • Around 20% having some post-secondary 
  • 27% having a bachelor’s degree
  • 7% having a graduate degree. 

“In terms of employment, less folks were employed in Quadra than Cortes. 33% of unstable respondents indicated that they were employed and 57% indicated that they were unemployed. Some of the folks that were unemployed noted that they were unemployed because they were either retired, or were unable to work because of a medical condition or because of a physical disability,” explained Wallace.

Gender and sexual orientation on Cortes

  • The majority of respondents were female (50 respondents stated female, 18 male and 5 identified as non-binary).
  • The majority of folks identified as ‘straight,’ in terms of sexual orientation. (52 were straight, 1 ‘gay or lesbian,’ 2 ‘queer,’ 7 bisexual or pansexual, 2 asexual.)

“Respondents who identified as women are 2.6 times more likely to be housing unstable than male respondents. Let’s look at what services we can provide to support them to be stable,” said Wallace 

Age Breakdown of the 77 ‘unstable’ respondents on Cortes

  • No one under the age of 18 filled in the survey
  • The majority were between the ages of 26 and 65 (60 respondents were in this age group, another 12 were over 65 and 5 were 18 and 25). 

Gender and sexual orientation on Quadra

  • 23 respondents identify as female, 5 as male, and 1 as non-binary. 
  • In terms of sexual orientation,  19 people identified as straight, 1 as gay or lesbian, 1 as bisexual and 5 as bisexual or pansexual. 

“So again, we’re really skewing towards women answering the survey and most of those folks are straight,” said Wallace. “We also were able to identify that women and non-binary folks are 4.6 times more likely to be unstable than (straight) men.”

Age breakdown of the 30 ‘unstable’ respondents on Quadra

  • 65% of unstable respondents in Quadra and the Outer Islands are 46 or older.
  • The breakdown: one between ages of 18 and 25, six between 26 and 45, thirteen between 46 and 65, and eight people over the age of 65.

“So a bit of an older age range in Quadra answering the survey than in Cortes,” said Wallace.

Rental Prices by Housing Stability Status – Cortes Study

The top five reasons for housing instability on Cortes

  1. Low wages, 
  2. Mental and physical health concerns, 
  3. The inability to afford rent/mortgage, 
  4. Housing in need of major repairs (i.e., no windows, no heat, water or mould damage, leaky roof), 
  5. Their house is only available to them seasonally or they struggle to find parking for their mobile home. 

The top five reasons for housing instability of Quadra

  1. Physical or mental health concerns; 
  2. Inability to afford rent/mortgage; 
  3. Low wages; 
  4. Housing in need of major repairs (i.e., no windows, no heat, water or mould damage, leaky roof); 
  5. Domestic/family violence, abuse, and/or rejection. 

The top five reasons for housing instability in the SRD

  • Inability to afford rent or mortgage payments. 
  • Low wages 
  • Housing in need of major repairs.  
  • People are seeing an increase in rent prices over the past couple years that is making it quite difficult to pay their rent 
  • Illness or medical conditions. 

“I think this is really interesting to break it down in these ways, by  three areas because we can see, for example, in Cortes, one of the reasons is people can’t find housing year round. So seasonal housing is very much an issue in Cortes.  In contrast in Quadra, many more folks are experiencing domestic or family violence and abuse, and that’s really becoming challenging for folks to keep stable housing,” said Wallace.

“Then when we look at the overall picture, we can see that the top three reasons for instability are income related.  People are not able to afford  their rent or the mortgage.  They’re not feeling like they are receiving enough salary to pay for that rent or mortgage.  They can’t pay for repairs in their house.”

When we look at the bigger picture in terms of recommendations and what we need to do,  we take all of these into account and provide some recommendations.  We also hope that each community can look at their top five reasons for instability and address those more specifically.

Missing basic amenities

  • On Cortes: 27 respondents did not have sufficient or affordable heat, 25 did not have indoor plumbing, 9 did not have drinking water
  • On Quadra: 50% of respondents did not have heat, 10% did not have electricity and 6% no drinking water. 

“These are definitely not great numbers. We don’t want to see anyone missing basic amenities.  That being said, I really do think it’s important to say that this is common across rural communities in Canada,” said Wallace. 

“The Canadian National Definitions of homelessness identify what a livable condition is versus an unlivable condition. If you are missing any of these amenities, you are considered living in an unlivable condition, which puts you in the category of housing unstable or homelessness.” 

She added, “What we find really interesting is that some folks responded as being stable, but when we look at it and they’re missing either electricity, they don’t have heating, maybe they don’t have plumbing.  While they think they might be stable, according to national definitions they’re actually considered unstable.  It’s quite an interesting measure to help us identify who is experiencing homelessness and who is not.”

This was the third in a series of programs about the ‘unsheltered’ and ‘at risk’ populations of Cortes and Quadra Islands identified in the ‘Collecting Stories of Where We Live’ survey. First Wallace gave an overview of responses throughout the Strathcona Regional District. Then she gave a breakdown of the answers from Cortes and Quadra Islands. In the concluding episode Linda Bernicki, Director of Rural Health and Wellness at the Rural Housing Network, will join Wallace as we discuss solutions.

Links of Interest

Top image credit: Outhouse – Photo by Debbie Anderson via Flickr (Public Domain)

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