Social planning work continues

A lot of work is being done to try to address social planning issues such as homelessness in the Cowichan Valley.

A lot of work is being done to try to address social planning issues such as homelessness in the Cowichan Valley.

Kathleen Sheppard, executive director of Social Planning Cowichan (SPC), came to Ladysmith council Feb. 16 and provided a review of SPC’s work  in 2014 and also looked ahead to the coming year.

SPC was formed in 2004 with a mandate to research, form partnerships, create strategies and inform the Cowichan public about social planning issues in the region, she said.

“Over the past year, one of our key areas of focus has been around affordable housing and homelessness,” she said. “We began work on affordable housing in 2007, and at that time, our goal was to establish an independent organization to focus solely on homelessness and housing-related issues in the region. A couple of weeks ago, we were able to announce that we have launched the Cowichan Housing Association, which will become that independent organization that will focus solely on those issues. So that’s quite exciting, and we’ll continue to support that new organization as it continues to grow and develop.”

One of SPC’s key programs over the past year has been a housing assistance program that provides emergency assistance for individuals who are facing eviction or utilities disconnections.

“Over the past year, we have disbursed over $35,000 to 94 individuals in the community who were in crisis situations,” said Sheppard.

One of SPC’s projects is to calculate the living wage for the region, and in 2014, they calculated the living wage at $17.04 per person in a two-adult, two-child household.

“We’re currently working on the calculations for 2015, and they’re still preliminary, but I expect we will see an increase in the living wage for the region again this year,” said Sheppard.

Another key area of focus for SPC in the last year was creating cultural connections.

In 2008, SPC took on the legacy from the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Duncan to continue to foster cultural relations in the community.

Last winter, SPC hosted six Understanding the Village workshops where the participants experience what colonization was like for First Nations people in the community, and four more are planned for this spring. That work has led SPC to begin developing a cultural competency framework in partnership with North Cowichan.

SPC has also been working with Duncan United Church on a project called Cowichan 101, which takes participants through First Nations culture, history and language.

Sheppard expects 2015 to be busy as well.

“Looking ahead to 2015, one of our key priorities is going to be around a social policy framework, bringing together a common set of principles to help us all guide decision-making as we move forward,” she said. “And we’ll also be able to fill in some of the key data gaps that we have in our community, which are really around youth and poverty issues.”

Coun. Steve Arnett congratulated Sheppard and her staff for the work they’ve done following up from the NAIG.

“I attended all of the presentations of Understanding the Village, and I’ve been part of Cowichan 101; the work that is doing to achieve true reconciliation is extraordinary work,” he said.

In response, Sheppard recognized Michelle Staples as the key person on that work.