Friday November 4, 2022 | LANGFORD, BC
by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
Amidst the many concerns of a provincial government, seeing the well-being of women and others find ways to re-establish themselves beyond abusive or violent domestic situations has been a priority in the Horgan government.
Since 2017, when first elected as the MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin, Mitzi Dean has been championing this cause for women and families in BC. Today she was particularly pleased to announce the progress of transition housing in the west shore, where for 10 years her career in social services delivery was focussed on the well-being of women and families.
“These homes will provide a safe haven for women and children where they can begin to rebuild their lives with the supports and the services that they need,” said Dean today at an announcement about the transition house that is under construction in the west shore. “Everyone has the right to live without fear of violence. No one should have to choose between being in a violent relationship and being homeless,” said Dean.
Though not in attendance today at the public announcement held on this wet and windy day at the Songhees Wellness Centre on Admirals Road in the west shore, Premier John Horgan and Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity Grace Lore have been very much on the same page, as pointed out by Dean at the podium today.
As has the City of Langford, represented today by Mayor Stew Young proudly attending one of his last general media events of his municipal term of office.
Also at the microphone was retired MLA and NDP organizer Maurine Karagianis who now chairs the Victoria Women’s Transition House (VWTH) Society board, as well as the Society’s executive director Makenna Rielly. Karagianis said: “John Horgan and Grace Lore championed this project from the very beginning for us.” She noted that there are “dire circumstances for our whole community and we need this kind of housing”.
“We sadly don’t have any bragging rights to talk about this project because the privacy and confidentiality of everyone who live there is of utmost importance to their safety and their long-term health,” said Karagianis.
Thanks was included today to BC Housing (John McEown, Nicola Sharp, Sairoz Sekhon and Bahar Dehnadi), dHK Architects Inc, Knappet Construction and M’akola Housing Society as part of the team effort.
Long-time support from Mayor Stew Young:
“It’s really important to look at the fabric of what a community is, and what we need to do for the people that live there,” said Stew Young to the crowd of over 70 people gathered today.
He noted that Karagianis came forward three or four years ago. It wasn’t a discussion about ‘should we need to do this’, it was ‘we need to do this’, being for ‘our community’. Young said” “It’s an opportunity for the whole region to have those most vulnerable women and children to have a safe place, especially out in the west shore where we’ve had not much in the way of services.”
He asked for a big round of applause for “everybody here, who actually was part of this and made this happen today”. He commended Mitzi and Maurine as two leaders “who are there, and always there to make sure that what happens in our community is good for the people in Langford and good for our region”.
Women’s Transition Housing Fund:
The Women’s Transition Housing Fund is a $734 million investment over 10 years (2018-2027) to build and operate 1,500 transition housing second-stage housing, and long-term housing spaces for women and children feeling violence.
To date, 824 units are complete or underway, giving women and their children a place to regroup and rebuild their lives. Of those, 167 homes are complete. The other 657 units are under construction or in the development stages, says the Ministry of Attorney General and Responsible for Housing.
For several years through the pandemic — and even before — there has been high demand for construction trades in both the private market and building housing for government projects.
Pairing with social supports:
The first step — and a big one — is the departure of a woman (in many cases with children) from a situation which is damaging to her physical, mental or financial well-being. Transitional housing provides a landing place upon that departure.
But it’s the social supports that are key to success of the overall goal to see women not remain (or return to) situations which are impeding their health and personal stability. The NDP government has seen the wisdom in combining social supports with housing.
Premier-designate David Eby (he will be sworn in on November 18, 2022) has put forth a housing plan that includes a $500-million fund to provide grants to non-profits and First Nations looking to buy rental properties and a pledge to fast-track approvals and construction of multi-family housing developments (which includes the range of unit types and sizes for transitional and second-stage housing). Beyond that: “Government used to believe that it had an obligation to build housing for middle-class families. Somehow we got away from that. We need to get back into that and deliver that housing,” he said on October 21.
Since 2017, the province has founded over 36,000 affordable homes (complete or underway) including 230 in the west shore.
New 4-storey Westshore Transition House:
The new four-storey Westshore Transition House complex for women and children fleeing violence is at an undisclosed location.
Construction completion is expected by Fall 2024.
It will be comprised of 50 apartments (two transition spaces and 48 second-stage homes) including a mix of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom spaces. The building includes amenities and office space for delivery of VWTH support services.
The west shore location of the new housing means people won’t have to take their children out of school or get set up in a new community.
“This project is going to be life-changing,” said Maurine Karagianis. ‘This can in fact save lives in the long run,” she said.
The support services will include:
- Short-term second stage affordable housing up to one year (higher levels of service)
- Second stage affordable housing up to two years for those involved in the programming
- Counselling and groups for women and children
- Children’s programs
- Community partner meeting rooms
- Workshop space for VWTH classes (e.g. Rent Smart, Financial Literacy, Arts Expressions, and life skills support)
- Gathering space for Indigenous women and children to meet with families, elders, and other community supports
Duration of stay:
Transition house guests normally stay for 30 days, while second-stage housing residents typically live in the units for six to 24 months before moving to more permanent housing.
The development allows for a seamless move from the transition house beds into second-stage units.
Rent for second-stage housing is calculated at 30% of residents’ income or the provincial shelter rate for those receiving income or disability assistance.
Rental housing crisis:
As there has been a housing crisis going on several years now — including a near-zero rental vacancy rate in the Greater Victoria area, sometimes women and children leave this sort of transitional and second-stage housing and potentially fall between the cracks.
“By the time people stabilize, we’re already talking with affordable housing places that are going to commit to taking some of our clients in,” said Rielly, explaining that it all comes together “so as long as that program is going along with it, and they are getting stabilized”.
Mitzi Dean mentioned that $700 million in the BC budget has been earmarked for development of the second-stage housing, for as Rielly said “the days are long gone” when a 30-day transition stay could be followed by a client then right away finding somewhere to live.
Sometimes women and families exiting the transitional supports have to relocate up-island and “just wait to be able to come back in”, said Rielly today, in response to a question from Island Social Trends. “We never promise that we can find a place, because we don’t have those resources and ability to make those promises. “But we don’t abandon them,” said Rielly, saying they are given suggestions (for accommodation) that clients can check out. “When people go homeless, it’s quite often into the invisible… they’re couch surfing… that’s still homeless … it’s not as bad as being on the street but it’s still homeless.” She said that VWTH works with government and partners to find places.
“This project will fill very quickly,” the VWTH executive director pointed out. She noted that BC Housing is committed to building (housing) in all communities and “provide some relief towards that”, including affordable housing places that are committed to taking these clients in.
VWTH will operate the building and provide on-site support services to residents: safety planning, crisis intervention, parenting support and tenancy resources.
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke has been covering news of the west shore through a socioeconomic lens since 2014.
Island Social Trends emerged from West Shore Voice News (2014-2020) which had followed in the footsteps of Sooke Voice News (2011-2013) and MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010).
Island Social Trends is published by Brookeline Publishing House Inc in Langford, BC.