A tent in the woods, with underwear and bags nearby

‘Unsheltered’ and ‘At Risk’ Populations on Cortes and Quadra Islands

In the Spring of 2022, Campbell River & District Coalition to End Homelessness and the Urban Indigenous Housing and Wellness Coalition  commisioned a series of studies of the housing crisis in our area. One components was a survey called ‘Collecting Stories of Where We Live’ conducted by the Rural Development Network. 110 Cortes Island and 43 Area C residents participated (all but two of the latter were from Quadra Island).  

“The purpose was to provide a comprehensive picture of housing instability and homelessness in the area to help inform service providers and municipal, provincial, and federal policies, practices, and funding decisions. And then to elevate and incorporate the voices of folks who are experiencing homelessness in solutions to end homelessness,” explained Emma Wallace, Project Manager of Community Development and Homelessness Estimations at the Rural Development Network.

Key findings on Cortes Island: 

 77 of the 110 survey respondents lived in unstable housing situations. When the reported dependents and adults living in the same household were added, the number of people living in unstable conditions rose to at least 159. A further breakdown of the 77 ‘unstable’ respondents revealed: 

  • Only 51 of the 77 stated they were in unstable housing situations, 7 were ‘unsure’ and the remaining 19 were identified by criteria in the survey.
  • 11 lived outside in the ‘unsheltered’ situations typically associated with ‘homelessness’ during this past year.
  • 46 couch surfed, stayed in an emergency shelter, or in an abandoned building at some point. 
  • 51 were ‘at risk’ of homelessness because they are paying more for their rent or mortgage than they could afford. (7% of housing ‘unstable’ respondents on Cortes own their homes and 22% are renters.) 

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. 

“Less frequently noted reasons for instability included rent increases, job loss, domestic/family violence and/or family rejection, lack of transportation, COVID-19, death of a family member/partner, and conflict with a landlord.” – the study

Key findings on Quadra Island (and Area C) 

41 of the respondents were on Quadra Island, 1 on Maurelle Island and the last in an unidentifed Outer Island. 30 were ‘housing unstable’ and this number rose to 69 after adding the reported dependents and adults living in the same household. A further breakdown of the 30 ‘unstable’ respondents revealed: 

  • Only 21 of the 30 stated they were in unstable housing situations, 4 were ‘unsure’ and the remaining 5 were identified by the survey.
  • 12 lived in unsheltered situations this past year
  • 13 were either ‘emergency sheltered’ or ‘provisionally accommodated’ at some point.
  • 22 paid more for their rent or mortgage than they could afford. (14% of the ‘unstable’ respondents own their homes and 11% are renters. )

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. 

Wallace pointed out that an inability to pay the rent or mortgage is #2 on Quadra.

“More people are struggling with payments in Quadra and  it’s actually more likely that folks are unable to pay rent or mortgage than in Cortes,” she said.

“Other responses included job loss, rent increases, death of a family member/partner, conflict with landlord, lack of transportation, struggle finding parking for mobile homes, seasonal housing, and racism/discrimination.” – the study

“We know that there are definitely more folks experiencing homelessness than were captured as part of this survey. The goal was to use this information in collaboration with the provincial Point in Time count and the Housing Survey happening in Strathcona Regional District. The idea is that you would capture the data from all three of those projects, put them together, and that would provide a better picture of what homelessness is looking like in the entire region,” said Wallace.

“One of the goals of this project was to get a better sense of if folks would be interested in staying in transitional housing. Once we have that information, service providers across the region can use that information to advocate for housing support.” 

She added, “The housing situation of folks at risk of homelessmness is very precarious. Maybe they just lost their job and their not going to be able to afford their mortgage payment, it is that kind of thing. It is folks who could very, very easily become homeless.” 

This is the second of a series of programs in which Wallace discusses housing instability in our area. In part one, she said the ‘Collecting Stories of Where We Live’ survey identified 801 SRD residents living in unstable conditions. While the actual number is not known, an educated guesstimate suggests there may be more than 1200. In part three, Wallace shatters a few stereotypes through an exploration of the demographics revealed in the studies of Cortes and Quadra Islands. Linda Bernicki, Director of Rural Health and Wellness at the Rural Housing Network, will join us to discuss solutions in the concluding episode.

Top photo credit: No fixed Abode – Photo by Danie Ware via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License) 

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