Tent city may be down the road, yet homelessness certainly resides in Ladysmith.
Despite the community’s outward appearance as a bucolic slice of small-town Canada, B.C.’s homelessness crisis has created a grim state of affairs for some — families and singles alike. It’s not unusual for people to call on the Ladysmith Resource Centre Association when they’re having a personal housing crisis.
“From an LRCA perspective, we see people almost on a daily basis who come in and see us about housing availability or financial support,” said Christy Wood, executive director. “When you come into a rural community, homelessness is much more hidden,” she added. “People tend to be more creative in terms of where they lay their heads at night.”
Homelessness isn’t necessarily the stereotypical guy pushing the shopping cart but may instead be parents dropping their kids at school, families forced to dwell in their in-laws’ basement because they can’t afford to rent or purchase a home. At the same time, there is “Dog Patch,” the collection of live-aboard derelict boats in the harbour, and reports of people living in the forest or in makeshift camps.
Wood was among those who took part in dual workshops hosted last week by Cowichan Housing Association (CHA) to gather local input for an attainable housing strategy for the region including Ladysmith.
About 20 people attended the workshop, including town council representatives and planning staff. Guido Weisz, a CHA board member and chair of the building committee for Ladysmith Resource Centre Association, found it a robust exchange.
“This was an opportunity for the Cowichan Housing Authority to present some of the feedback it collected on housing needs in the region and to elicit thoughts and ideas from the community in reaction to those findings,” Weisz said. “Part of the discussion was how to best respond to needs in terms of non-market housing, subsidized housing and encourage the rental housing market as well as ownership.”
Ladysmith has to address the housing shortage within a matrix of changing demographics, most notably in-migration, community growth and an aging population. Meanwhile, inflationary pressures from an overheated housing market have pushed home prices and rents beyond reach, particularly for young families. More people have been squeezed out of affordable housing.
“Ladysmith is one of the fastest growing communities in the province,” Weisz said. “There are increasing pressures on housing availability, especially in the lower end of the housing market.”
Conditions will only worsen unless market interventions are taken, he said.
At the Ladysmith workshop, Wood provided an update on the LCRA’s mixed-income affordable housing project planned for Buller Street. A provincial grant of $3.6-million toward the $5.5-million to $8-million cost was announced in November. The association is working on rezoning for the site and expects proceed to a public hearing early in the new year.
“I wish it would solve the need,” Weisz said. “No, it will be a really important step in the right direction, but it is only a step. The need will exceed the 36 units provided within this project. That said, it is a major project for the town. It is my hope it will facilitate other projects in the future, both for Ladysmith and the Cowichan region.”
CHA’s strategy — intended to give direction to local governments, non-profits, business and community groups — may help to establish local priorities.
“We want to get in front of it,” Wood said. “Cowichan Valley is growing, Nanaimo is growing and we’re right in between.”