Three Things I Learned

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A post from our out-going Executive Director Andrew Wynn-Williams. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.

As I prepare to move on to a new phase in my life it is important to reflect on what I have learned in my three and a half years with the Coalition. The learnings, for me, come down to three key things.

First is the key driver of homelessness.  If you ask the ‘average Joe’ what they think causes homelessness they will often leap to personal issues like substance use, mental health issues, family breakdown or job loss. While it is true these all contribute, the key driver is more structural. In our society today rents are too high (average of over $730 in Greater Victoria). Vacancy rates are too low (less than 1% for units of $700 or less in Greater Victoria) and incomes are too low ($375 for shelter if you are on income assistance).  The numbers just don’t add up. The structural challenge created by this combination drives too many people to the economic margins of our community so when a personal crisis does arise, they are far more prone to losing their home and having no other resources to fall back on. If we only address people’s personal issues one by one we will NEVER end homelessness. We need to understand and address the structural challenge before we can resolve this issue.

Second is the breadth and depth of the caring community. There are thousands of individuals in our community who assist those in crisis. They could be volunteers. They could be outreach workers. But they are there. They are always over worked. They always have the stress of trying to assist people with overwhelming challenges when often there is no solution. They are not well paid. Yet they continue with the work they do because it is important to them. They are caring, compassionate and without them our community would be a far worse place.

Third, and most important, is what I learned about the people who have experienced homelessness. I learned about how diverse they are. I learned about how they care for each other. It goes beyond shared experience and into a compassionate understanding that I can barely comprehend. I have made dear friends and learned who these individuals are as human beings.

Before I took on this role I would walk down the street and see homeless people. Now I walk down the street and see people. I hope we all can make that distinction.

– Andrew Wynn-Williams