There’s Work Left To Do for Bev Suderman
After a near-death experience in a car accident in her early forties, Bev Suderman’s life changed. “That experience set me on the path of thinking, what is it that I really want to do?”
Looking back on her life’s work advocating for positive change, driven by a passion for solving complex social issues, the answer was clear: community planning. Bev embarked on a mid-life career switch, completing a Master’s in Community Planning at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP).
Moving to Duncan in 2007 as a community planner with the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) would allow her to make a difference on a larger scale. “I’d [been] frustrated with…a lot of the work I was doing,” reflects Bev, “because it seemed like you could make a difference in the lives of individuals, but there was no work at the systemic level.” She was ready to use her decades of volunteer experience to inform policy solutions for addressing social issues like poverty, mental health and addictions.
Outside of the CVRD, she dedicates her time as co-chair of the Cowichan Community Advisory Board, a group of community stakeholders who recommend how local investments to address homelessness should be made to United Way BC’s Central and Northern Vancouver Island office for Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy funding allocations. With the CAB, she’s similarly focused on the big picture.
“There are so many intertwined systemic issues,” says Bev, connecting the dots between increasing homelessness, housing unaffordability, the opioid crisis, stagnated monthly welfare supports, historic financial pressures, and inherited life circumstances.
“There’s way more trauma in our society than we’re aware of.”
She cites statistics showing that many people who are street-entrenched and addicted to opiates have devastating histories, included murder within families, ongoing sexual abuse or assault, removal from families, and intergenerational trauma.
But in her role with the Cowichan CAB, Bev sees tangible, positive transformation happening in the community. “The Reaching Home dollars are essential for some of the innovations we’ve been able to do,” she says. These innovations include housing 72 people experiencing homelessness to stay safe from COVID-19, which began as planned and serviced tent encampments and turned into sleeping cabin sites. The collaborative nature of the CAB and Reaching Home facilitated this project, which was a “community collaboration” including businesses, non-profits, First Nations, and local governments.
The CAB has all of the most important housing providers in the region at the table with an Indigenous and non-Indigenous co-chair, working jointly on creative solutions that support the region’s most vulnerable.
Doing this type of community-focused work is in Bev’s blood. A Winnipeg native, she volunteered with her mother from age seven onwards at the Mennonite Central Committee. “There’s a very strong service dimension to my values,” says Bev. Guided by those values, her earlier professional career took her from her hometown (teaching high school and running literacy training for underprivileged adults) to Calgary (completing a Master’s in International Development) to Zambia (conducting thesis research), followed by years living on the Hopi Indian reservation in Arizona (working as a natural resource planner) and stints in Ottawa and Toronto.
Upon her arrival to Duncan in 2007, Bev immersed herself in Cowichan’s volunteer community. She sat on a number of boards, including a food security organization called Cowichan Green Community. That was when issues of housing, unaffordability and homelessness first hit home for her. “When people couldn’t afford housing, they were choosing to use food banks…because they wanted to keep paying the rent,” reflects Bev. From there, she got involved with the Regional Affordable Housing Directorate (RAHD) and the Cowichan Housing Association (CHA). These issues would turn out to define much of her work to come, and continue to energize her today.
With all that she’s seen throughout her career, Bev still carries a spirit of optimism.
“I’m hopeful that at some point, this concept of ‘housing as a commodity' will somehow go away, and it will be more about ‘home’”
For people who grew up relatively stable, Bev feels there’s a lifelong responsibility to extend compassion for those suffering. “I’ve always felt that everything I do in terms of paid or volunteer jobs needs to make the world a better place.”
No matter where Bev goes next, it’s safe to assume she will.