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

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

Current unmarked residential streets are 50 km/h, but Greater Vancouver municipalities might consider dropping that to 30 km/h. (Black Press Media file photo)
Oak Bay, Esquimalt and Sidney join Saanich in application to reduce residential road speeds to 30 km/h

Victoria also taking part in pilot to change default speed to 30 km/h from 50 km/h

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply as overdose emergency turns 5

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Black Press Media file photo)
Privacy concerns keep COVID-19 cases at University of Victoria off the record

Island Health, UVic not sharing specifics after internal notice confirms coronavirus case

A man with a history of sexual offences was arrested after he followed and aggressively tried to talk to two young woman on the weekend. Black Press File Photo
Man convicted of sexual offences arrested after teens followed in Victoria

Women hid in a Quadra Village convenience store as man aggressively tried to get in

A few dozen students and parents gathered outside Lansdowne Middle School April 14 to protest proposed budget cuts to SD61 music programs. From left to right: Lyra Gaudin, Cleo Bateman, Abby Farish, Brigitte Peters, Enid Gaudin, Des Farish. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
SD61’s proposed $7 million cuts threaten equity and inclusion, say parents, teachers

Music classes, inclusion services, reading programs on the line

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a tsunami?

Tsunamis have claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people between 1998… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

One of the grand prizes for this year's Hometown Heroes Lottery includes a seaside home at SookePoint, $1.5 million, and an Audi Quattro. (Photo courtesy of Hometown Heroes)
Hometown Heroes Lottery features seaside home in Sooke

A stunning seaside home in Sooke could be yours for the price… Continue reading

(Amandalina Letterio - Capital News)
Kelowna demonstrators show support for Vancouver Island logging activists

Two Kelowna men stood atop a pedestrian bridge on Harvey Avenue to raise awareness about old-growth forests

City workers from Duncan were busy recently putting up street signs in both Hul’q’umi’num’ and English. (Submitted photo)
Hul’q’umi’num street signs installed in downtown Duncan

Partnership with Cowichan Tribes sees English street names twinned with Indigenous language

Most Read