Health officer Hasselback tells Tuff to tackle housing problem

While there is no shortage of world-class accommodation providers ready and willing to house Tofino’s tourists, locals are struggling to find shelter.

Central Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback is bluntly urging Tofino’s municipal council to tackle the community’s housing concerns.

During a presentation to council on April 28, Hasselback cited the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust’s 2014 Vital Signs Report and touted the CBT as a valuable resource that council should be mining for guidance.

“They do a phenomenal job,” he said of the CBT. 

“I work with a variety of other local governments and they aren’t blessed with such keen and interested individuals and the sharing of information that so often occurs on the West Coast.”

The CBT’s Vital Signs Report sheds light on the hard climb Tofitians are facing when  searching for stable housing situations.

“Higher housing costs, seasonal employment, crowded housing and a larger proportion of housing in need of repair, makes stable housing a challenge for many,” the report states.

“For a person working full-time, earning minimum wage, living in a one-bedroom apartment (average cost), 41 per cent of their income goes towards rent.”

The report includes a 2014 regional survey that showed 19.4 per cent of responders had moved three times or more in the past five years and 11.9 per cent had moved twice.

“Housing was the primary reason for moving, followed by employment,” according to the report.

The report suggests the average cost for a single-family-home in Tofino was $466,000 in 2012.

 â€œThe challenge really does come down to the appropriate diversity of housing options available on the West Coast,” Hasselback said.

“If you go into the report, you’ll find some really interesting approaches to determining how insecure certain components of the population on the West Coast are when it comes to actual housing and the need for having a longer term strategy…Council should be interested in being actively involved in that process.”

Coun. Greg Blanchette said council has been moving towards the development of a housing strategy for a while and is “getting very serious about it this term,” but asked what sort of health considerations Dr. Hasselback was basing his recommendation on.

“A lot of what drives our housing strategy here is worker requirements; we’re not looking at the public health aspect of it,” Blanchette said.

Hasselback said housing and health go hand-in-hand.

“Housing and health are so integrally related some people have often said, ‘If you actually want to address health problems, solve the housing problems first.’ They’re that closely related,” he said.

“We don’t necessarily identify, for the West Coast, homelessness as a particular issue at this point, but precarious housing—which is a different term (and) is really how many individuals do you have in your community that question whether they will actually still be in the same place within a month or 3 months time—is significantly higher than we see in some other locations.

“Some of that has to do with the transient hospitality support industry and the populations you’re serving, there’s no question about that, but that precariousness of the housing has been clearly associated with poor health outcomes.”

He suggested housing is a key factor in battling mental health and substance abuse issues.

“One of the most important therapeutic interventions that we can provide for both those individuals suffering from chronic mental illness, as well as those from substance (abuse), is stable housing,” he said.

“Once we can bring people into a stable housing situation, it becomes manifestly easier to manage the conditions that they suffer from and that’s to the benefit of the whole community.”

Coun. Al Anderson noted the district is currently working on a housing needs assessment and asked Hasselback if any specific groups or areas should be targeted.

Hasselback said he had not personally identified any specific areas but encouraged council to look into that themselves. 

“I just want to be sure council is actively aware that, when we look at some of this information, housing keeps percolating to the surface as an issue that collectively the community should be considering to address,” he said.

Hasselback also advised council to continue supporting the Alberni Clayoquot Health Network, invest in emergency planning, and participate in the regional district’s ongoing transportation strategy discussions.

 

 

Andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca