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Homeless numbers on the rise in Sooke

Lack of affordable housing, opioid crisis just two factors spurring increase
The Hope Centre at 6750 West Coast Rd. is accepting bottle donations from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. (Sooke News Mirror files)

The number of homeless is on the rise in Sooke, says Sherry Thompson, executive director of the Hope Centre.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase,” Thompson said in an interview with the Sooke News Mirror. “We’re serving 120 to 190 people in a month, which is a significant rise since we’ve taken over, and we believe it’s only going to get worse.”

She said the lack of affordable housing and the opioid crisis are two of a number of factors spurring the increase.

The majority of funding for the Hope Centre is administered through BC Housing, with some support from other sources such as the District of Sooke and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

“That funding is just for our people staying at the Hope Centre,” Thompson explained.

The Victoria Foundation also provides funding for a mental health and addictions counsellor, with those services available to anyone in the community.

“There’s no charge for counselling for clients whether they’re staying at the Hope Centre or not,” Thompson said.

One of the constant pressures is that there’s no certainty to the amount of funding or sources that will be available moving forward.

“We are applying for grants all the time,” she noted. “It’s a lot of work.”

The District of Sooke has been supportive in working with the Sooke Homelessness Coalition, Thompson said.

According to the Sooke Region Community Health Network, the Sooke Homelessness Coalition has worked with other groups for the past few years to find temporary and more permanent solutions to the chronic homeless in the community. Members include the District of Sooke, Sooke Shelter Society, community paramedics, the RCMP, local doctors and others. “Most importantly, individuals with lived experience have a predominant seat at the table,” a February 2021 report noted.

Thompson said she supports the coalition’s efforts to permit homeless people to park their vehicles on public or private land as a temporary option.

Richard Sawatsky, a member of the coalition who has been homeless for a year, received a $50 ticket from Sooke bylaw on June 22 for parking his RV for more than 72 hours on the highway at 2489 Otter Point Rd.

“One of the solutions we’ve been working on since October is to be able to sleep in your vehicle on private and public property with safety and dignity,” Sawatsky said. “I consider the ticket a slap in the face considering our efforts to work together since October.”

Christina Moog, communications co-ordinator for the District of Sooke, said in an email that the District takes an education-first approach when dealing with complaints from residents regarding bylaw contraventions.

“Should this not be successful, bylaw will proceed with ticketing,” Moog said. “Unfortunately, in the end, the individual’s continued insistence on parking contrary to bylaws negatively impacted numerous residents and left us with no alternative but to issue a ticket.”

According to the district, several team members spent hours trying to work with Sawatsky, including offering solutions to his requests.

“Ultimately, we all want a safer place for people to call home and a supportive environment to ensure the health and well-being of our community,” the statement noted. “This situation was one where multiple residents expressed concerns and our efforts working toward compliance were not successful and resulted in the issuance of a ticket. Most often we can come to a resolution without ticketing. However, that was not the case in this situation.”

Sooke Hope Centre at 6750 West Coast Rd. is accepting bottles and cans for donation from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week to help support its programs.

“Every little bit helps people,” Thompson stressed.

ALSO READ: Hope Centre holds its official opening

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About the Author: Rick Stiebel

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