How we’re addressing homelessness and affordable housing in Cowichan

Despite all efforts to end homelessness in the Cowichan region, the data continues to show an increase in the number of street-entrenched residents.

The Cowichan Basket Society and other service providers report that usually by this time of year, the influx of people experiencing homelessness over the summer have either found housing or moved on. But this year they’re still on the streets in large numbers.

Soup kitchen numbers are up by 50 percent and the numbers of camping food hampers (food that doesn’t require a stove) handed out each month have nearly doubled.  Thank you to all the donors in Cowichan who give to United Way; you help fund the protein in the food hampers.

Digging in to make change long-term

United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island and other members of the Cowichan Coalition to Address Homelessness and Affordable Housing are taking action.

We continue to recruit key members to join the Coalition and meet monthly to connect, share information, and identify priorities. We have active sub-committees that are focusing on areas such as homeless prevention and response, affordable housing, advocacy and education, and funding.

Key players agree on multi-year plan to help homeless become housed

We continue to play a leadership role in convening others to lobby for change in Cowichan and bring more funds to tackle homelessness, particularly for Indigenous community members that consistently make up more than 35% of the chronic homeless counted in our Point-in-Time homeless counts.

Two years ago we worked with the multi-stakeholder group, the Tze Tza Watul Community Board, to initiate significant community consultation on how to better coordinate services. We then captured the information in a report with recommendations based on what we heard from the community.

Now, as a member of the Cowichan Coalition to Address Homelessness and Affordable Housing, we’re overseeing the Cowichan Community Plan on Homelessness and Affordable Housing and its three streams of action:

  • to address chronic homelessness,
  • to prevent homelessness in vulnerable groups and
  • to expand the supply of affordable housing throughout the Cowichan region.

Cold weather means helping in practical ways

Toques given (and in many cases knitted) by our donors over the summer were piled up at our offices, and with winter coming we got them out to those who need them most.

In October we gave away toques and shared other self-care items at a Homelessness Action Week event in Duncan where those in need had access to community services, haircuts, a hot meal, foot care, dental care, and clothing.

Public education to help people understand extent of homeless/affordable housing needs

Not everyone understands who is facing or slipping into homeless (more seniors, families with kids in school as well as those who are struggling with mental health and addiction issues) and that they are local people.

In October we tackled some of the misconceptions and shared our plans (Read our plan here.) and solutions for Cowichan when we were included in a panel of speakers at a town hall meeting led by MP Alistair MacGregor on the National Housing Strategy.

We shared data from the programs that United Way funds as well as how we as a community can meet the urgent need for affordable housing.

Citizens voted YES! in referendum

During the municipal election in October, local residents voted “yes” in the referendum to allow the Cowichan Valley Regional District to collect a nominal tax for affordable housing.

United Way worked with other service providers to make the case for the referendum and then helped the Regional District and other service providers to promote the annual seed funding to the Cowichan Housing Association (CHA). CHA will match non-profit housing ideas with suitable land, find developers to build the housing, and secure grants from senior levels of government to make the idea a reality.

We're now working with CHA to help implement the recommendations in the affordable housing community plan.

Want to be part of the solution in Cowichan?

Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Take action today. Email us at or call 250-591-8731.