This unidentified individual was seen lying on Sidney’s Beacon Avenue in mid-February. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Saanich Peninsula not immune to homelessness

Central Saanich councillor calls for more action to deal with homelessness

A Central Saanich councillor says the issue of homelessness is not a problem isolated to the City of Victoria.

“It’s not an issue isolated to cities,” said Coun. Carl Jensen. “It is everywhere.” While it might be more prevalent and apparent in some areas, the Saanich Peninsula is not immune to it, he said.

Jensen made these comments after he joined Couns. Niall Paltiel and Gord Newton in participating in the Coldest Night of the Year fundraising event for Our Place Society held Feb. 22. The trio walked 5 km in support of the organization.

“The event was a powerful reminder to everyone involved about the need to spread compassion and to look out for our fellow neighbours and community members,” said Paltiel, adding the event raised more than $72,000.

For Newton, the event had a personal touch, as he walked with his wife and daughter, who volunteered at Our Place as part of her school work.

Jensen said that during their walk the trio discussed holding a similar event on the Saanich Peninsula, possibly in Sidney, to raise awareness about the issue locally. North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr also participated in the event.

A 2018 BC Housing meta survey of homeless counts across British Columbia said 7,655 individuals experienced homelessness across the province, with 931 individuals identified in Greater Victoria, with no specific numbers available for each of the municipalities.

A point-in-time survey found 158 unsheltered people in Greater Victoria on March 15, 2018.

These differences not only reflected differences in methodology — the first cited report includes sheltered and unsheltered homeless, but also variability around the concept of homelessness itself.

As the BC Housing report says, “visible homeless represent just the tip of the iceberg.” Found just below the surface is the concept of hidden homelessness, which captures the idea of people of no fixed address, but staying with friends (couch surfing) or living in forests or parks, vehicles and abandoned buildings.

RELATED: New report finds many Sidney residents struggle with housing affordability

Even less visible is the population deemed at risk of homelessness. This concept describes individuals who have a permanent address, but a tenuous grip on housing for various reasons, mainly income, as identified in a recent housing report part and parcel of Sidney’s unfolding review and update of its Official Community Plan.

Membership in these categories is fluid, and if the third and final group often appears as an abstract, theoretical mass in reports assessing local housing needs, the first and second group are becoming more visible on local streets.

Last month, an individual could be seen sleeping on Beacon Avenue, where local residents have also seen individuals asking for money from passersby or motorists near prominent businesses or intersections. Jensen has made comparable observations.

“One of the things that has struck my attention is certainly seeing more and more incidents of people panhandling for money,” he said. “I have seen that on a number of occasions in Central Saanich in front of some of the grocery stores.” He also points to the growing use of the Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank, especially by families, as evidence.

RELATED: More than $20,000 raised for Coldest Night of the Year walk weeks before event

RELATED: Victoria modular housing complex built to house homeless Indigenous women

RELATED: LETTER: Homeless person left out in the cold

When asked what municipalities can do, Jensen pointed to Central Saanich’s desire to create more in-fill housing and the recent opening of the Parsons at Brentwood as operated by Greater Victoria Housing Society as evidence of what is possible. Jensen said that development is a great example of how municipalities can work with developers and non-profit organizations to bring more affordable housing to the region, adding that he would like to see more developments of that sort across the Peninsula. Sidney and North Saanich have also identified housing as priorities, with concrete projects underway in those respective communities.

RELATED: Proposed Sidney development promises to increase rental housing supply

RELATED: North Saanich approves Habitat for Humanity development

Jensen also encourages residents across the Peninsula to familiarize themselves with the issue of homelessness in all of its shapes and sizes, drawing on the available research as foundation.

“Just because we don’t have people sleeping in the doorways of Central Saanich, doesn’t mean that we don’t have an issue with homelessness,” he said. “Just because we don’t have as many people sleeping on the streets, doesn’t mean that we don’t have a real problem. We, as a community, have the opportunity to be open towards [the question] of how do we as a group fix this.”


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