Last of the remaining occupants at Camp Namegans, tent city at Saanich’s Regina Park. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Moving backwards on homelessness: Rejecting evidence-based solutions

Guest column by UVic professors Bernie Pauly, Marilou Gagnon

This week, residents of the Saanich tent city, Camp Namegans, will be evicted from their current location in Regina Park without the requirement that housing be provided by the government. In 2016, Judge Hinkson required that housing be provided before residents of Super Intent City were displaced from the courthouse lawn. Judge Hinkson’s decision reflected the fact that housing is a basic determinant of health and a human right – and that displacing residents without providing an alternative would be unjust and potentially dangerous.

See: Tent city shuts down at Regina Park

We are all very well aware that there is a lack of affordable housing in Greater Victoria and that even people earning a decent living can quickly use the majority of their income for rent. To make matters worst, rent is expected to go up by 4.5 per cent in 2019. Supportive housing, while affordable, is unavailable with 1,400 people on the waiting list in Greater Victoria alone. In situations of extreme poverty, the options are limited to living in crowded shelters or on the streets.

There is clear evidence that homelessness increases risks to health and well-being contributing to premature aging and even early death. So, while neighbors and elected officials may not like tent cities and may want them gone, they are a form of self-help initiated by people with direct experience of homelessness in the absence of other options.

The decision to displace Camp Namegans was focused on concerns regarding risk of fire, highway collision, and criminality. If you are a fire safety expert, you see fire safety issues. If you are in law enforcement, you see policing issues. If you are a highway safety supervisor, you see highway safety issues. These individuals are doing their jobs. However, the challenge is when these risks are allowed to dominate as if they are the only risks faced by homeless people. These assessments of risks are often based on standards that assume that everyone has access to housing and financial resources. This is not the case for homeless people.

Across this country, many communities are seeking solutions to address homelessness. Among the multitude of solutions tried and tested, Housing First has emerged as a clear winner not legal actions. Housing First means that people are immediately housed without conditions or expectations of housing readiness. In one of the largest studies of its kind in the world, the At Home/Chez Soi project followed 1,000 people and found that 80 per cent of them were still housed after one year. People in Housing First programs use less health services, spend less time in the legal system and have improved community integration and quality of life. Like anyone, people experiencing homelessness are better able to find stability, health and quality of life if they receive housing first.

Housing First is official federal government policy in Canada. Cities across the country have implemented Housing First and some communities like Medicine Hat Alberta have dramatically reduced or ended homelessness. The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness has endorsed a Housing First approach for almost a decade. Our community has sought to increase the supply of housing in order to make Housing First a reality in our community. Although there are promises of housing, these are not yet a reality. That reality is being lived by tent city residents who have nowhere to go right now. With few resources, tent cities, in the absence of affordable and acceptable housing help to mitigate these harms creating community where people experience increased health and safety.

So, if tent cities pose such high risks, why are we not treating this as a public health emergency and immediately setting up temporary housing? In the absence of an affordable housing supply, solutions such as rental supplements, tiny houses, and modular housing can be implemented immediately. As a community we have failed to act on the evidence or work towards national goals of ending homelessness. We will be held accountable for the failure to implement evidence-based solutions to homelessness and we will be called to apologize for failing to act on the evidence.

– Bernie Pauly is a registered nurse,a professor at UVic’s School of Nursing and a scientist with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research.

– Marilou Gagnon is a registered nurse, an associate professor in UVic’s School of Nursing and president of the Harm Reduction Nurses Association.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A 2.5-magnitude earthquake occurred beneath San Juan Island, Wash. – 25 kilometres from Sidney – late on Oct. 30. (Screenshot via United States Geological Survey)
Minor Washington earthquake felt in Sidney, Victoria

U.S. seismologists report 2.5-magnitude quake late Friday

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak called changes to the More Justice, More Peace mural “offensive” in a statement Oct. 30. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Victoria police chief calls new changes to downtown mural ‘offensive’

‘ACAB’ replaced with a note accusing the City, VicPD of silencing BIPOC

Paul Nestman’s Exemplary Service Award, which will be presented to him on Oct. 27 by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin during a virtual ceremony. (Provided by Tammy Robinson)
‘Trust your team’: Victoria man receives Exemplary Service Award from Coast Guard

Paul Nestman, along with 36 others, receive awards during virtual ceremony

The ‘fall back’ time change Nov.1 means earlier sunrises – and sunsets – for British Columbians. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Clocks ‘fall back’ for B.C. residents on Nov. 1

Daylight Saving Time ends, B.C. still working on permanent switch to ‘spring ahead’ time

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie “The Name of the Rose” at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

Oscar-winner was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
POLL: How closely are you following the U.S. presidential election?

It may feel like it’s been going on forever but the U.S.… Continue reading

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Police service dog Herc helped RCMP locate and arrest suspects in the Ladysmith area on Oct. 23, 2020, related to a stolen vehicle. (Submitted)
RCMP nab prolific property offender in Ladysmith with assist from police dog Herc

Police attempted to stop the vehicle but it fled from the area towards Chemainus.

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Most Read