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Shelter remains top issue into 2009
by Vivian Moreau

As printed in the "Oak Bay News" - December 31, 2008

How to find a home and hang on to it remains a concern for homeless, renters and first-time buyers heading into '09

A roof over one's head is a basic human need, psychologists say. That need was the top issue for Black Press readers and reporters in 2008. Whether what to do about the region's homeless, how to find an apartment or how to find a first home to purchase, the crying need for shelter was front and centre this year.

What to do about Victoria's downtown core of homeless was the top concern for many.

In 2008 we wrote 140 stories about homelessness.

Whether we told you about who was helping or who was bullying the region's estimated 1,200 people who live on our streets, the focus of the stories was always on efforts to find solutions.

Tent City

In October, a B.C Supreme Court ruling shot down the city of Victoria's bylaw prohibiting camping in city parks. After tents were quickly set up following the judgment's release, Victoria police just as quickly scuttled them, sending tenters back to the streets.

In September, Saanich police took down two tents that had been set up at one of the region's busiest intersections, Blanshard Street at Saanich Road.

But groups and individuals stepped in where they could to ease the stress of street living.

In July we wrote about how the Rainbow Kitchen feeds 150 people a day from the Henry Street kitchen. For six years, volunteers at the St. Saviour's Church kitchen have served up hot lunches to those that need it.

With fresh veggies from a garden out back, and donations from Thrifty Foods and Cob's Bread, seniors and families on limited incomes are also regulars at the kitchen.

No Vacancy

How to find an apartment in the Capital Region's with a record low-vacancy rate was a story reported on repeatedly through the year.

In January we wrote about how the province's landlord/tenant hotline has experienced an 80 per cent increase in enquiries. With tenants deciding to stay put with the region's 0.4 vacancy rate in rental housing, more tenants were calling the Residential Tenancy Branch to lodge complaints about landlords.

Jill Clements, of the Greater Victoria Coalition to end homelessness, says opening up the tight rental housing market will have a trickle down effect that will help get more homeless off the streets.

The recent opening of a 35-unit building on Burdett Avenue, owned by the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA), is one step, Clements said.

"Now that Burdett property is not for people facing homelessness but the people moving into that property will free up units within the VIHA system for those within the system who are facing homelessness."

The coalition has a mandate to find homes for 250 people by March 2009 and a further 350 in the 2009/2010 fiscal year.

Further up the housing chain, for those who wanted to move from rented apartments to their first house, finding a starter home was a challenge we wrote about.

With the value of real estate going up 150 per cent in Victoria in the last seven years, the market had topped out, said local Realtor Wayne Schrader.

"Housing prices have gone up to such an extent that they couldn't continue to go up," he said.

Although sales dropped by about 20 per cent in the region, the average price of a home still rose about five per cent. But that will change in 2009, Remax Canada forecasted.

The average selling price will likely drop to $440,000 by the end of 2009. Even so, sales are expected to drop a further 11 per cent, Remax said in its 2009 Outlook report.

Did you know?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow first proposed a set of needs, usually illustrated as a pyramid, that human beings strive toward in order to not only survive but flourish. "The first lower level is associated with physiological needs," online encyclopedia Wikipedia posts, "while the top levels are termed growth needs associated with psychological needs. Deficiency needs must be met first. Once these are met, seeking to satisfy growth needs drives personal growth. The higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus when the lower needs in the pyramid are met."