[Editorial by Bill Dougan, reprinted with permission and some editing; this article first appeared in Tideline on Jan 15, 2021]
As long as I have resided on Cortes Island, housing has been an issue. In my earlier days many folks had housing most of the year, but would move out to allow the owners to enjoy their property during the summer months. This was not an ideal situation but it now appears, in hindsight, the Good Ol’ Days.
This year we have 18 families residing on the Gorge Harbour Marina Resort property; most of these people are here because they cannot find a place to live. Some of these people have lived on Cortes Island for years, built a life here, have friends and children here… but now find themselves with no place to stay on a permanent basis .
Daily I see ads for people who need places to live; many of them have lived here for decades and find themselves in this situation through no fault of their own. I have been in that situation myself, so I know how it affects your daily life: the added stress, the toll it takes on your health, so many negative results not only for the individuals left homeless but whole communities as well.
This past winter when we came together as a community over the disappearance of a young man on this island, I searched empty homes on the Gorge waterway itself. I was shocked to find that there are more homes unoccupied than occupied. I have seen homes sit empty for years with no one visiting — yet we have a housing shortage.
There are many reasons for this crisis — and it is just that, not only here but most places. It’s not as easy as “just go someplace else.” It’s not so easy to just relocate from here to the cities — where rent and property is even more expensive then Cortes Island and work doesn’t pay well enough to afford those homes. Lots of people on our island are in this bind. There’s no simple escape.
The people that serve you
These people who don’t have a place to live are the same people who serve you in our stores and restaurants, the same people who volunteer when something needs to be done. They are the people you call when you need firewood or manual labour done around your home, they’re the people who will come and fix broken stuff at your summer place, the tradespeople who can solve your ongoing challenges.
These people — in some cases but not all — are young, and many have children in our school. These are the same children we love watching at the Lip Syncs, at music recitals or building their rafts at Cortes Days; these are the children who fight to save our forests and their futures as well as yours and mine. Others are older, but find themselves in the same situation, homeless now or homeless soon. In other words these people who can’t find a place to live are us. Not strangers, but neighbours. People you know.
Its not even fair to say they “deserve” a place to live, because that makes it sound like housing, just a secure roof over one’s head, is something that some people deserve but others don’t. We do have affordable housing coming — about ten years late in my opinion, but still welcome. Who will be left to fill it though, once it’s finally built? Who will build it, if no one is left to do manual work here because they had no place to live?
Who will stack your firewood or cut it for you, who will come and fix your leaking pipes or do your electrical work, who will be behind the till when you want to pick up some groceries? Who’s going to make that cup of fresh Americano for you when you come during the summer, if their parents have no place to live? Who’s going to serve you in a restaurant, fix your boat when it breaks down, or get your home clean and ready for your return?
‘ … One of those special places”
I truly believe that Cortes Island is one of the “special places” and I’m grateful for finding it. I’m grateful for the awesome people who call this place home, and I look forward every year to seeing the people who come to spend their summers here. I also know I’m better off than many that live here… but that doesn’t mean that I can, nor do I want to, shove my head into the sand and pretend that we’re not approaching a situation that is not positive to say the least. We’re near a breaking point.
I am in my mid fifties and I feel a community is only as vibrant as its people. I spend my time most days working with “the next generation” — the younger people of Cortes Island — and I am grateful for that, and honored. It keeps me young, maybe not in body but in mind, and I can say I learn something from them every day. Without these people the place that I work at would not be what it is now. I would bet that none of the businesses on this island would be as successful as they are, without these same folks that can’t find a place to live today.
This is the place we call home, and our society is what we make it, I for one am not ready to live in a Retirement Island. I need the vigor of youth around me. I want to be part of a place where people are striving for a future and are successful, a place where we can all have a place to call home .
We all owe it to each other and to ourselves to help make this situation history. So I urge you to reconsider your reluctance to rent your vacant home or that extra cabin in your back yard. The same people whose services and labour you need and rely on, now need you.
[Thanks to Bill Dougan for permission to reprint with some copy-edits for style, format, typos, etc. Since this is an opinion piece, I’ll add my $0.02 as a member of the Cortes Natural Food Co-op Board for many years: this housing crisis affects every major business on the island. At the Coop we have often faced difficulty hiring enough staff for the tourist season because there is nowhere for our workers to live. Even over the winter, many of our employees struggle from one temporary accommodation to another. Some of our long-time members have moved ten, twenty, even more times during their years on Cortes Island.]
Links of Interest:
- (Cortes Currents) articles about homelessness on Cortes Island
- (Cortes Currents) articles about seasonal homelessness
- (Cortes Currents) articles mentioning Bill Dougan
Top photo credit: Marooned by Howard Pyle via Wikipedia (Public Domain)