Construction is about to begin on a new project that’s meant to provide affordable housing to people suffering from traumatic brain injuries in Campbell River.
It’s a group of people who often struggle with homelessness, said Shelley Howard, executive director of the Head Injury Support Society, just after breaking ground at the construction site on Monday.
“Eighty per cent of individuals with brain injuries end up on the streets, have drug and alcohol issues, have a hard time keeping a place,” said Howard, citing a study conducted in Toronto. “So we’re really excited about this.”
The building, called Linda’s Place, will include a mix of studio and one- to three-bedroom units. The building will be owned and operated by the non-profit society.
Nine apartments in the 27-unit building will be offered at a subsidized rate for people with brain injuries.
The smallest of those nine units may cost as little as $375 per month, not including utilities. However, the final amount isn’t set in stone, and the group is still looking to raise funds to lower costs.
One unit is for the manager, and the other 17 will be offered at market rates or lower, and aimed at people struggling in Campbell River’s overheated housing market.
“For the market rent, we’re looking at seniors and other individuals and families that are struggling,” said Howard.
Jennifer Kay, housing and programming coordinator for the group, said they’re also hoping to offer medical services that patients can’t normally access on the North Island.
The group is aiming to have it open in May 2020, and construction is slated to begin next week.
The site is located on a vacant lot at 531 9th Ave., adjacent to Phoenix Middle School and just a few steps away from the Head Injury Support Society’s office.
Politicians were in Campbell River to announce spending for the new project, including $830,000 from the federal government and $5 million from the province.
The society will still require a mortgage of up to $1.9 million, Howard said.
Attending the event on behalf of the federal government was Adam Vaughan, Liberal MP for the Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York.
Vaughan, who serves as parliamentary secretary to the minister of families, children and social development, said the investment is part of the National Housing Strategy, a multi-billion dollar plan announced in 2017.
He said that brain injuries are a major cause of homelessness.
“We all know and understand the role that addiction and mental health play in homelessness, but brain injury is as big a cause of homelessness in this country as those two other medical circumstances,” Vaughan said.
Courtenay-Comox New Democrat MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard attributed B.C.’s housing crisis to the previous BC Liberal government, which was in power for more than 15 years.
“Unfortunately, because it wasn’t a priority for the previous government, it was ignored for far too long, and that meant that too many seniors, too many families and people with disabilities were left struggling to find safe homes at rents they can afford,” she said.
Mayor Andy Adams said the city supported the project by waiving land development and permit fees, and by providing lobbying support for different levels of government.
It’s not the first housing project operated by the Head Injury Support Society.
Its office building at the corner of Dogwood and 9th Avenue includes four apartments for members with head injuries.
Those suites are transitional, providing a three-year maximum stay with one-on-one support from staff until the member has permanent housing.
The group also offers long-term apartments for people who are mostly independent but requiring some support.
Those apartments, located in Campbellton, already had tenants when they were purchased by the Head Injury Support Society.
That means that new tenants can only take occupancy as current ones move out, resulting in a long waiting list.
A report on regional housing needs released last year by the Strathcona Community Health Network said that rent in Campbell River increased by 42 per cent over the past decade.
Meanwhile, the vacancy rate plunged from seven per cent to 1.3 per cent.
The report notes that seniors are among the most vulnerable when it comes to housing, along with people on low incomes, First Nations people and those with mental health or addictions issues.