Victoria-based homelessness transition program Streets to Homes (S2H) will receive expanded government funding until 2015. The annual $400 000 from B.C. Housing allows the program to provide rent subsidies to 103 participants dealing with chronic homelessness and often mental health issues or substance abuse. Previously, the province funded 30 rent supplements, but S2H now has a maximum capacity of 120 participants.
“The program was created to address chronic homelessness in Victoria,” says Brad Crewson, S2H program co-ordinator. “We’re working with people who are homeless right now and are exhibiting a cycle of homelessness.”
Like traditional homelessness transition programs, S2H aims to get participants into stable housing. However, unlike many transition programs, S2H does not require that participants attend programs for substance use or employment and skills training. The program operates on a principle of housing first, which means it meets basic shelter needs before addressing other issues participants face.
“A housing-first model says, ‘You know what? Get them housed and meet the baseline in terms of shelter. Get them safe and secure, and then support them in starting to address whatever issues there are that have precipitated them being in a situation where they’re homeless,’ ” says Crewson.
Denis Tumelty is a S2H client who had been rotating between downtown shelters like the Salvation Army and Rock Bay Landing for three years while he relied on unstable and low-wage construction work offered by temp agencies.
“Even those places, you’re grateful for them that they’re there. You get a bed for the night and a shower,” says Tumelty. “It’s great, but it’s not a way to live. It wears on you. Day in and day out, it wears.”
He says he understands why some people would rather sleep outside than in overcrowded shelters.
After Tumelty was referred to S2H, he moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Esquimalt where he’s been living for just under two months.
“Unless you have a stable home, you’re not stable. Period,” says Tumelty. He says unstable housing prevents people from securing steady health or employment or succeeding at things they otherwise would do well.
S2H began as a pilot program by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness in 2010 and is now managed by Pacifica Housing.
In December 2012, one year after the pilot project became a permanent program, 73 per cent of S2H participants remained housed, showing the program to be a cost-effective model with long-term results. The majority of participants who left S2H either moved into housing with a higher level of support or became employed full time and were deemed financially independent. As well, the landlord support system with S2H ensured that private landlords renting units to clients stayed on with the program.
B.C. Housing provides a maximum of $300 in rent subsidies each month to each of the 103 participants in S2H. Based on an $850 000 total program cost divided among participants at peak capacity, Crewson says this is about $7 000 per person annually. For many clients who receive $375 per month for shelter through government social assistance, like Tumelty, the actual cost of housing in Victoria is more affordable with the S2H subsidy.
Bernie Pauly, associate nursing professor and scientist at UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. (CAR-BC), says an effective housing-first model requires a supply of affordable and available housing. “In Victoria, that’s been a bit of a challenge because we do have high rental and low vacancy rates.”
The average cost of rent in Victoria in 2011 was $676 monthly for a bachelor apartment, and vacancy rates for such apartments, while increasing since 2006, were an average of 1.7 per cent in 2011 according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Once housed, participants have direct access to services through S2H and can be referred to existing programs in Victoria such as health and recovery programs, food banks and employment and training workshops.
S2H provides some funding for small expenses like obtaining basic furniture or identification, immigration and other documents.
“These programs help people get their identity back. Identity is a very important thing, because you lose identity down there,” says Tumelty of S2H. “Streets to Homes helps bring people back up to normal living, which we all deserve.”
Evaluations by Pacifica Housing and CAR-BC find that S2H is a successful model; however, other facets of homelessness have yet to be addressed.
“We’ve added some new housing stock, and we’re housing people through the year, but it’s not enough to stop the flow into homelessness,” says Pauly. “So we’re moving out of homelessness, but we’re not preventing it.”