Joseph Gaetan-Pelletier and Lorie Dubuque are not looking forward to winter.
The couple live in an uninsulated and leaking trailer that has no electricity or running water on a lot just outside Duncan.
And that’s a step up from living in Gaetan-Pelletier’s pick-up truck, where they lived for some time before the couple managed to scrape together $500 for stepping up to this the dilapidated trailer.
Gaetan-Pelletier has been struggling with bone cancer and a list of other ailments for years and is unable to work. He collects $970 a month on disability. Dubuque’s only income is a small widow’s pension, and the couple has been trying unsuccessfully for two years to find a decent place to rent in the area.
“The cheapest rent we can find is about $900 a month, and we just can’t afford to pay that,” Gaetan-Pelletier said.
“We’ve talked to our MLA and anyone else we thought could help, but we’ve gotten nowhere. The Canadian Cancer Society has even been looking for a place for us and have had no success either. My name has been on a waiting list at BC Housing for two years as well. Other people have managed to get modular homes through government initiatives and other programs and we’re wondering, why not us?”
With skyrocketing rents and an ongoing affordable housing shortage, more and more people who wouldn’t have been homeless a few years ago are now finding themselves in similar situations.
The opioid crisis is also playing a role, but statistics show that only about 30 per cent of those who are currently homeless have drug addictions, and Gaetan-Pelletier and Dubuque are not among them.
“We really need help,” Gaetan-Pelletier. “We’re facing a tough winter.”
Keith Simmonds is a minister at the Duncan United Church which offers programs for the homeless. He is also a member of the Cowichan Coalition to Address Homelessness and Affordable Housing.
He said that it appears that the homeless problem in the Cowichan Valley, and across B.C. and Canada, is only getting worse as the disadvantaged brace for another cold winter season.
“We’re seeing more people sleeping around the church these days, which may be connected to them being driven to this area from the highway corridor (following the implementation of North Cowichan’s and Duncan’s joint Safer Community Plan).”
Simmonds said there are housing programs specifically geared to older people like Gaetan-Pelletier, who is 63, and Dubuque, who is 59.
He said they include programs offered from organizations like the Kiwanis, BC Housing and the Cowichan Housing Association.
“But there are waiting lists for all or most of them,” he said. “There are other programs being planned but, from what I see right now, the problem is getting worse.”
The majority of voters across the Cowichan Valley Regional District gave the green light to establishing an affordable housing initiative, that would cost a maximum of $765,000 per year, in last fall’s referendum.
The Cowichan Housing Association, which is responsible for the management of the initiative, has spent a lot of time and effort since the referendum researching and devising strategies on how to best implement the program.
John Horn, the CHA’s executive director, said the CHA now has a committee in place to begin receiving applications for affordable housing projects.
“We’re working with groups across the region to make applications,” Horn said. “One of them, from the Ladysmith Resource Association, is very close to being submitted, and construction could begin as soon as six months, with completion in about a year.”
Horn said applications have to go through a long and arduous process, including doing environmental assessments and obtaining required permits, so it’s hard to say when more affordable housing projects will come on line.
“There’s a million things that have to be done before we even dig the first hole in the ground,” he said.