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Lack of affordable housing contributes to downward spiral

A stable place to live is essential to turning a life around
Lack of affordable housing contributes to downward spiral

by Kyle Wells Those living in homelessness or nearly homeless in Powell River say that the main roadblock preventing them from being able to improve their situation is finding affordable shelter.

With housing in place, everything becomes easier. Housing can keep you away from bad influences. Housing can give you the time and space to take better care of yourself. Housing can be the key to turning your life around.

Diana “Ozzy” MacCargar has been living in Powell River for three years since moving from New York. She suffers from mental illness and is on disability assistance. MacCargar has been homeless before and has lived in a tent near Duck Lake and on Willingdon Beach in the past. She now rents a two-bedroom place for $550 and consistently lets out her other room to people she knows who need a place to go, charging maybe $50 a month.

MacCargar said she knows she’s lucky to have a decent place to live and said that many more simply don’t. The payoff is sometimes not being able to afford to eat. Because people on income assistance or disability often have to use the part of their funding meant for food and other costs to supplement the funds needed for rent, it can mean having to make a choice between eating and shelter.

“You can either have a home with a roof over your head and relative safety from harassment,” said MacCargar, “...or you can eat and take what the world throws at you daily with no refuge.”

Gillian Andrew, a poverty law advocate with Powell River Community Services Association, represents people in poverty who are having grievances with landlords over housing conditions or broken agreements. She said that inadequate housing, a lack of affordable housing, corrupt landlords, detrimental roommates and bad reputations are problems for many and stand in the way of low income individuals finding reasonable housing situations.

“They may not be officially homeless but they’re moving all the time because they can only afford completely inadequate accommodation,” said Andrews. “More affordable housing, subsidized housing, would be incredibly helpful.”

While rents continue to climb, income assistance for shelter has risen $50 in the past 10 years and has not seen an increase since 2007. A single person on income assistance or disability is given $375 per month for rent, hydro and phone. According to the Powell River Homelessness Partnering Strategy final report, the average rent for a private apartment in April 2010 was $585. The cheapest suite available in last week’s newspaper was $500. There was one room in a shared place advertised at $380.

The report agrees that housing, combined with support, is an essential step. It makes recommendations to establish infrastructure for housing ranging from emergency to permanent. It advocates a Housing First Approach which promotes housing, without requirements to be drug or alcohol free and with the proper support services in place, as the first and most essential step to helping people turn their lives around.

The report details what housing services are available in the community. Life Cycle Housing Society provides affordable housing to families, individuals and people with disabilities, but has a long waiting list, up to five years for an individual or family looking for accommodation. There is a transition house in Powell River for women and children to help them escape from domestic abuse. Other organizations exist in town to support people with various disabilities, whether they be developmental or mobile, who are living independently.

The closest emergency shelter is in Courtenay and there is no transitional housing here for men. The cheapest rooms in Powell River are at a local hotel that charges $375. All of those interviewed said they would never stay there again due to the quality of the housing and a harmful environment for anyone trying to get their life together.

“The lack of emergency housing solutions means that people are unable to find a stable, local, short-term solution in case of emergencies,” reads the report, “where they would have the opportunity to deal with some of the underlying issues related to their housing situation.”

This is the third in a series of four articles on homelessness in Powell River.