As a respondent named Jade says in Sooke's Amidst the Paradise report: "It humbles you how easily life can change and throw you in a loop that you don't expect, that could throw you into a downward spiral towards homelessness." The stark realities mixed with the gratitude and appreciation expressed for front-line workers makes Gemma Martin's document a truly eye-and-heart opening read. She recommends that you focus on these "lived and living experience" observations (starting on pg. 40) before reading anything else.
- Sooke Homelessness Coalition (SHC) mandate (attached below)
- Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness Community Plan to End Homelessness (2019-2024)
- Sooke Region Communities Health Network's Amidst the Paradise (2021)
- SRCHN's Sooke Region Food Security Report (2021)
- Sooke Multi-Belief Initiative Compassionate Action Plan (2020 update)
- Greater Victoria Point In Time Homeless Count and Housing Needs Survey (2020; Sooke screenshot below)
- Province of BC Income Assistance Rate Table (updated Oct. 2021) + Support & Shelter page
- SD #62 Healthy Schools, Healthy People infographic on youth issues (2019)
- Hope Centre Transitional and Emergency Shelter with wrap-around support services
- Capital Region Housing Corporation
- BC Housing - Subsidized housing
- M'akola Housing Society (will manage Sooke's two new BC Housing projects)
Regional and National
- Capital Regional District Reaching Home program + FAQ
- City of Victoria's Breaking The Cycle of Mental Illness, Addictions and Homelessness report (2007)
- Medicine Hat, Alta. Plan to End Homelessness (2009; year nine progress report here).
- Government of Canada Reaching Home: Canada's Homelessness Strategy + backgrounder
- BC Ministry of Mental Health & Addictions' A Pathway to Hope (roadmap to 2030)
- BC Ministry of Social Development & Policy Reduction + reports page
Agencies + Front-line locals
- Sooke Shelter Society (Sherry Thompson, Melanie Cunningham, Carla Simicich, Mark Ziegler)
- Sooke Food Bank Society (Kim Kaldel and team)
- Sooke Community Paramedic (Janna Lamontagne, BC Emergency Health Services)
- AVI Health & Community Services + westshore clinic (Olivander Day)
- West Coast Family Medical Clinic (Dr. Jeff Pocock)
- Sooke Family Resource Society (Nicky Logins and team)
- Sooke Place Housing Society (Lorna Clark, Lions Godfrey and Maxine Medhurst)
- Sooke Transition House Society
- Rev. Al Tysick (Sooke resident, newly retired from The Victoria Dandelion Society after 35 years)
- Sooke School District #62 - Healthy Schools, Healthy People program (Cindy Andrew)
- Mayor Maja Tait (founding co-chair of the Sooke Homelessness Coalition with Melanie Cunningham)
- District of Sooke (CAO Norm McInnis, Bylaw Officers Medea Mills and Scott Cullum, Communications Coordinator Christina Moog)
- Sooke RCMP (Staff Sgt. Brett Sinden)
- Vancouver Island Regional Library Sooke (Manager Peter McGuire and staff)
Other Related Organizations & Resources
- BC Toward the Heart harm reduction program
- Backpack Project
- Doctors of the World Mobile Health Clinic
Media Coverage 2018/2021
- "Homeless In Sooke for Safety" - CBC (March 20, 2018)
- "Sooke Delivers on Helping the Homeless" - News Mirror (Jul. 13, 2020)
- "Sooke Mayor Pleads for Help with Homeless" - Times Colonist (Oct. 8, 2020)
- "Affordable Housing Projects Planned for Sooke Badly Needed" - Times Colonist (Feb. 17, 2021)
- "Sooke Homelessness Report Highlights Lack of Services" - News Mirror (March 11, 2021)
- "How A Sooke Family Fell Through the Cracks into Homelessness" - Capital Daily (June 15, 2021)
- "Sooke Receives Over $400k to Improve Homelessness Services" - Victoria Buzz (Aug. 23, 2021)
Sooke Homelessness Coalition
The Sooke Homelessness Coalition (SHC) is a junior but still empowered partner in a collaborative (rather than hierarchical) relationship with the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. The latter is also the mothership for coalitions in Sidney and on Salt Spring Island, both of which have and are developing their own localized strategic plans.
Established in 2018 at Mayor Tait's initiation, regular stakeholder meetings were coordinated by the Sooke Shelter Society and SRCHN's Christine Bossi. The SHC is now meeting six times a year via Zoom. It's co-chaired by the Sooke Shelter Society (Melanie Cunningham) and the District of Sooke (originally Mayor Tait and, since the spring, yours truly). The coalition brings together the SSS, SRCHN, the T'Sou-ke First Nation (represented by Cllr. Rose Dumont), service agencies, BC Housing, provincial government ministries, Island Health, District of Sooke bylaw officers, Sooke RCMP and much-appreciated others.
The SHC's goal is to gather "local housing, health and social service providers, businesses, people with lived or living experiences of homelessness, and concerned citizens" in a collaborative mission "to develop and drive solutions to end homelessness."
Developing a Sooke Strategic Plan
Tomorrow's session at the Baptist Church is the first day of a two-parter continuing on Nov. 20. The Greater Victoria Coalition's inspirational Executive Director (and East Sooke resident) Kelly Roth will facilitate both sessions, and she'll be joined by her colleague Janine Theobald for the second gathering. Both women have been integral over the last six months in planning the sessions. They're past masters at this kind of collaborative work, and yet they have (in their friendly, non-hierarchal, awesomely inclusive way) allowed the Sooke team leeway to design the process.
The day will begin tomorrow with a blessing by T'Sou-ke elder Shirley Alphonse and will include brief opening words from T'Sou-ke Cllr. Dumont, Deputy Mayor Beddows (standing in for Mayor Tait, who will join us on Nov. 20), consultant Gemma Martin, the SMBI's Mark Ziegler (architect of the Sooke Compassionate Action Plan) and the Sooke Shelter Society's Carla Simicich.
Carla is manager of the Hope Centre, and she'll be sharing lived-experience insights and stories from shelter residents. Her contributions will trigger a group discussion about how what we've heard challenges, confirms or rewrites our own ideas about living rough and/or in a shelter environment. (From the perspective of my life-long privilege, and likely much as you would, I imagine the worst: desperate, cold, wet, hungry, lonely ~ sheer hell and despair alleviated to a temporary degree as I connect and reconnect with support services.)
Those attending (masked and with vaccine passports duly checked at the door) will then form break-out groups at five tables based on the Greater Victoria Coalition's "Five Key Community-Based Outcomes" that emerged from its own Community Planning Day two years ago.
i) Support Services
iii) Advocacy and Awareness
iv) Prevention Support
v) Collaboration and Leadership
We'll all rotate from one table to the next, conversing and capturing light-bulb thoughts on the fly. By day's end, we'll all have had a chance to share our best, birthed-in-Sooke ideas about how we can address each of these areas.
The job on Nov. 20 will be to identify working groups that can realistically tackle a limited set of primary objectives -- all in service to aiding and abetting as best we can the solid, essential work of the Sooke Shelter Society and its allies.
Inspiration from Sooke's Beyond the Paradise
The seven recommendations beginning on pg. 66 of Gemma Martin's Beyond the Paradise: Homelessness in the Sooke Region all resonate with the GVCEH's community-based outcomes.
1. Housing First With Wrap-Around Support - roof over head for the chronically homeless + on-site mental health and addiction services as championed elsewhere, including the City of Victoria's Breaking The Cycle of Mental Illness, Addictions and Homelessness report, related housing-first case studies in the region and the Medicine Hat, Alta. Plan to End Homelessness.
2. Transitional Housing - now available locally following many years of lobbying with BC Housing's purchase of the Hope Centre this February with its 33 shelter-rate rental rooms and community kitchen. This followed a surge in attention to and care for the homeless during COVID (i.e., the temporary shelters at SEAPARC, Ed Mcgregor Park and the former - now truly so after this week's fire - Mulligans/Speed Source building at the edge of John Phillips Memorial Park.)
3. Hub Service Model - One-stop access for vulnerable populations to case workers, support services and information about available services, including healthcare, housing support, washing facilities, food, employment, training opportunities. The ground floor of the Hope Centre (former St. Vincent de Paul store) is slated to become this hub with full-time staff, six shelter beds for temporary visitors, programming space and a commercial kitchen/dining space where upstairs residents will have communal meals.
4. Meaningful Alliances with First Nations in the Sooke Region
5. Education & Communication - Outreach to the community to explain the problem and how its being addressed, "using in part the voices of people with lived experience." (Misunderstanding abounds, of course. A Winnipeg Free Press article, for instance, quotes Carolann Barr, executive director at Toronto-based non-profit Raising the Roof, as saying that "people who are homeless are more often victims than criminals. The general public might think that people who face homelessness are actually perpetrators of crime, but most research and most statistics available indicate that people who are homeless are at greater risk of violence and attack, obviously because they don’t have a safe place to go home to.'")
6. Access to Affordable Housing - Martin quotes one of her lived-experience survey subjects as saying "it's getting to the point (in Sooke) that it's feeling like a lottery to get a viewing even at an apartment, let alone being selected." Rent Smart service ... BC Non-Profit Housing Association
7. Investment in Localized Specialized Services
Identifying Ongoing Needs
- A positive of a sort for Sooke is that our homeless population (and our capacity to manage it) is relatively limited and therefore manageable. There will be 33 rooms at the Hope Centre, and a near matching number of shelter-rate units at the two incoming BC Housing projects on the east side of the Town Centre. (Victoria Cllr. Andrew recently offered gritty insights into the much-larger scale of the issue in our urban neighbour.)
- A necessarily downsized Sooke version of the Greater Victoria Street Survival Guide, now being developed by the Sooke Shelter Society. We lack many of the services and amenities available in the core communities, but a Sooke pocket guide could feature key emergency contacts along with info on the Sooke Food Bank, the SFRS Thrift Store, meal services like the Anglican Church's Vital Vittles Friday lunch program and the Baptist Church's Big House Breakfasts on Monday and Wednesday mornings.
- The Sooke Multi-Belief Initiative's Compassionate Action Plan, developed in 2018/19 by some 50 individuals affiliated with a dozen local organizations, is also a significant puzzle piece. One of its five priorities is homelessness. [From the report: "Estimates of the number of homeless people in Sooke range from about 35 to more than 100. They are a nearly invisible part of our community. They spend much of each day trying to satisfy basic needs for food, safe shelter and hygiene. Social contact with the larger community is often avoided by these individuals, just as more fortunate residents tend to avoid contact with them. Many homeless people contend with mental illnesses aggravated by addictions to alcohol and street drugs. These challenges become more difficult during our winter months, especially during periods of extreme weather. Some working poor are also homeless due to the lack of affordable housing in Sooke. They may inhabit vehicles and moored boats."] Its top recommendations (safe areas for the homeless, a full-time shelter) are now addressed to a significant degree at the Hope Centre.
- Continued support from the District of Sooke in the following ways ...
i) Sooke's draft OCP reaffirms the District's commitment to "partner with non-profit agencies to enhance the support services for the homeless population." (Action #79, 126.96.36.199) This partnership has ramped up considerably since Mayor Tait convened a stakeholders meeting in early 2018 and passed the reigns to the Sooke Region Communities Health Network (via its DOS service agreement) to work on the issue. (Enter in earnest the Sooke Shelter Society, founded just a year earlier, and then, in 2020, the SHC.)
ii) Limited, as-needed assistance from DOS Communications, i.e. as when the District coordinated messaging about the 2020/21 temporary shelters. <clip from July, 2020> "It’s unfortunate that some choose to draw a direct link between homelessness and lawlessness. The District, along with its partners, will manage any, and all, situations at the new (Mulligans) shelter in the same way it did at SEAPARC and Ed Macgregor Park. Both situations served the basic needs of our homeless population without major incident. The District sees the provision of the basic necessities of life as a hallmark of a compassionate community and we are happy to do our part. Housing our community’s most vulnerable will benefit everyone in our community. This is an interim and temporary fix to the problem of homelessness in Sooke that existed long before the pandemic. And it’s why Sooke has been working closely with BC Housing and the Province to build affordable housing including shelter rate accommodation."
iii) Grant hosting: Earlier this year, the District applied for and secured $413k in UBCM Strengthening Communities funding on behalf of the Sooke Shelter Society that will operationalize its activities this year and next. (Long-term, stable, permanent funding from other orders of government will be the most prominent and necessary of the Strat Plan objectives, I'm sure.)
iv) Advocate, advocate, advocate!! with the province for more support services in Sooke. The Mayor and I did exactly that in a telephone meeting with Minister of Mental Health Sheila Malcolmson prior to the UBCM conference in September. After expressing sincere gratitude for BC Housing's purchase of the Hope Centre, we cited the need for further support from agencies beyond the caring presence of AVI case workers in Sooke, i.e. via Island Health's Managed Alcohol Program (currently not budgeted to provide service in Sooke despite the demonstrated need); HOPS (Housing Overdose Prevention Site) with its peer-to-peer consulting; and SOLID Harm Reduction (which provides Victoria-only at the moment health education and support services to reduce impacts of drug use).
The Minister acknowledged the huge and accelerating scale of the problem, especially when the opioid crisis is factored in, but said that steady progress is being made on her mandate letter's direction to "invest more in community-based mental health and social services so there are more trained front-line workers to help people in crisis and to free up police to focus on more serious crimes." We must keep the respectful pressure on.
v) Potential bylaw and policy revisions: "Van life," as profiled in Nomadland, is a new reality for growing numbers of low-income Canadians. Municipalities including Squamish, Nanaimo and the City of Vancouver may well be forced to rethink their bylaws and find solutions. Sooke, which has its seemingly small share of RV residents on private land, must watch and learn from trendsetting local governments. As for housing, the DOS must find ways to allow and actively encourage small and tiny home footprints within the District to ensure an attainable supply of owned and rental units.
vi) On that latter note, It will be worthwhile to revisit the work of the District's Affordable Housing Committee (click to explore the wealth of related links that committee member Britt Santowski compiled for her Sooke PocketNews). It convened in 2017 with a mandate to update the District's 2007 Affordable and Social Housing Policy. One of its outcomes was the 2019 Housing Needs Report, which looked at four key areas: "Limited availability of housing that is affordable to residents of the community; concerns related to housing adequacy, suitability and accessibility; limited supply of low-income housing in the community; and limited housing diversity across the housing continuum." Much good material to mine from committee minutes and reports in addition to the housing policies/actions in the new OCP.
Closing Preliminary Thought
All this said, I was raised middle class and have blessedly no experience with the lower rungs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. But I am aware of the reasons we as a society need to be empathetic and proactive. Compassion = Empathy In Action, definitely a Sooke trademark given the dedicated work of our non-profit organizations, churches, volunteers and the unofficial, in the moment, generosity typified by the caring folks on the Sooke Embrace Facebook page.
It's for good reason that, two years back, Sooke became the 103rd community worldwide to be officially recognized as a Compassionate City by Charter for Compassion International. Let's continue to up our game where it counts and keep it so.
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