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Filling a leaky bucket

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

Anton Chekhov

In January 2015, Cowichan Women Against Violence received a Homelessness Prevention Program (HPP) contract from BC Housing Corporation. As described in the first annual report of the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence (PODV):

The Homeless Prevention Program (HPP), introduced in 2014, is aimed at providing rent-supplements to people at risk of homelessness. These supplements help people to access rental housing in the private market. Women who have experienced violence or are at risk of violence are one of the groups identified for the program. As of March 31, 2015, 558 of the 1,716 HPP rent-supplement recipients were primarily identified as women fleeing violence. 

Our contract provides both staff assistance and rental supplements for women who are fleeing violence and at risk of homelessness. We can distribute $4,500 a month in rental supports. We are expected to assist at least 10 women a month. A woman can receive monthly assistance for up to six months. With discretion, we can extend the support for an additional six months. After that, she is expected to be able to maintain her housing. In other words, during the period within which she receives assistance, she must find income to replace the rent supplement.

We’re excited about getting this program. It’s another way in which we can ensure women have choices. The program means that some women who come to our transition house won’t return to an abusive situation because they lack the money needed to find their own home.

The logistics of organizing a brand new program with stringent contractual obligations are pretty daunting so it took us a few months to get the program operational. But, by April 1st, we were “open for business.” The first few months were slow and we worried that we weren’t getting the money out the door fast enough. That was then.

As of the end of July, we are fully subscribed and providing ongoing financial assistance to 13 women and support to many more. That means that for the next few months, there is no money for any new clients.

This illustrates the problem with the province’s premise that direct subsidies to individuals is a solution to the housing needs of a community. At the beginning, it seems like we’re filling a bucket and solving a problem. Too soon, we realize that the bucket is leaking.

Nothing about this program is plugging the leaks. We are momentarily helping a few women, not providing housing to the many vulnerable women (and children) who need support. As announced last week, CWAV Society is fundraising so we can build an affordable and supportive housing project to fill a gap. But we may not be able to pull it off and whatever we are able to do, will be a drop in an empty if not leaky bucket. 

Until Canada and the provinces develop a housing strategy that’s based in housing as a human right, efforts like ours will be like attempting to fill that leaky bucket. A federal election is a great time to find out which parties have a national housing plan.

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