Dr. Carrie Marshall said Tofino residents with nowhere else to go are seeking emergency shelter at the Tofino General Hospital. (Westerly file photo)

Dr. Carrie Marshall said Tofino residents with nowhere else to go are seeking emergency shelter at the Tofino General Hospital. (Westerly file photo)

Tofino’s housing crisis causing some to seek shelter at the local hospital

Tofino’s housing crisis is pushing the town’s ‘hidden homeless’ population into the forefront.

Tofino’s housing crisis is pushing the town’s ‘hidden homeless’ population into the forefront.

Dr. Carrie Marshall said residents with nowhere else to go are seeking emergency shelter at the Tofino General Hospital.

“We have patients that come in that we are providing accommodation for, essentially, and food. There’s no medical need. We admit them for social reasons. There’s not a criminal element to not having a fixed address, so police don’t want to be taking them to cells,” Marshall said. “We are increasingly getting more and more patients that there’s literally nowhere for them to go…Usually they are transient, or no-fixed-address patients, that fall between the hospital and criminal cells.”

Frustrations and concerns over the lack of housing in town have been a perpetual mainstay on council’s docket and the issue was a key point of emphasis during October’s municipal election campaign.

Petra Hansman, a “concerned rental citizen of Tofino,” is frustrated by what she believes has been a lack of action by Tofino council to fulfill the promises made during the campaign trail.

“There has been a palatable hush over talk of creating affordable housing, I fear that district and council have lost momentum in this very important issue,” she wrote.

READ MORE: Tofino and Ucluelet cheer new Airbnb tax agreement

She suggested developers could be interested in creating housing projects, but council “needs to be more flexible and create more allowances” while working with developers to find solutions.

“You as councillors and mayor were employed by the townspeople to alleviate this issue. Our town is desperate for solutions and shovels in the ground today. It’s time for investments made and solutions implemented. Please act before our gross population moves to Ucluelet and beyond. Enough is enough,” she wrote.

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly News that the district conducted a housing needs assessment in 2015 that highlighted a significant need for housing, but did not quantify or describe in detail the gap of suitable housing for the community’s most vulnerable residents.

“Until Dr. Marshall reported to us in the council meeting, I did not know that the hospital has admitted people overnight so that they have a place to stay—presumably a safe, warm and dry place to sleep,” she said.

“Dr. Marshall has highlighted an absolutely critical need that clearly must be addressed but, for me, this news also indicates the need to build more awareness and dialogue about the issue of homelessness and ‘living rough’ on the West Coast, an issue that is practically invisible to mainstream society.”

She said Tofino’s housing shortage is well known and is impacting distinct segments of the town’s population in different ways.

“Some people can afford market rents or mortgages, but they simply cannot find a place to rent or a home to buy. Many, many, others simply do not make enough income to afford market rents and mortgages—should they be so fortunate as to even find a vacancy or a home for sale,” she said.

“This group is often called the ‘missing middle’ and is likely the gap that is affecting local businesses and Tofino’s economy the most.”

She added the town’s most vulnerable residents need “deeply subsidized” housing, of which there is little in Tofino.

“We need to fill the housing gaps at all levels, but there are different strategies and partnerships needed for each type of housing,” she said.

She said council is working on creating “the best conditions possible” for affordable housing development through local government tools, like zoning, allowing increased density and removing minimum home sizes.

She added council is also lobbying the provincial and federal governments for desperately needed funding and policy changes and suggested Tofino’s was a key voice in the province’s decision to allow taxes collected by AirBnB rentals to go towards affordable housing initiatives last fall.

READ MORE: Bylaw makes room for tiny homes in Tofino

READ MORE: Tofino receives $500,000 for housing project

“A third category of action is actually building housing and, while that is relatively rare for a B.C. municipality, we are in the thick of it with the Tofino Bible Fellowship and the Tofino Housing Corporation preparing for a new residential neighbourhood on DL 114,” she said, referring to the district’s collaborative project to create 50 new housing units, which received $500,000 from the provincial government last March.

She added Tofino could also look into potential taxes being used in other municipalities,

“Like the vacancy tax in Vancouver and the so-called speculation tax,” she suggested. “These taxes are controversial, but should we be considering them in Tofino to help cool market prices or to at least add extra funding to our affordable housing reserve?”

She cautioned the community against expecting affordable rentals and homes to spring up in short order.

“I’d like the public to understand that as frustrating as it is that things move slowly, it helps to ask questions, listen to Council, staff and developers and try to understand the trade-offs and compromises that we consider when we make decisions about housing.

“It took decades for B.C. to get into this serious affordable housing [crisis], and we won’t be able to solve it overnight,” she said.

“There is no single ‘best way’ to tackle Tofino’s housing issue, rather it’s a combination of many things—from increasing supply directly through the Tofino Housing Corporation and indirectly with willing developers, moderating the need for new staff accommodation by carefully considering any new commercial development, lobbying the provincial and federal governments for funding and policy changes, to enforcing and reviewing short-term rental rules, to using zoning tools to create better conditions for affordable housing.”

She added that “unless we are willing to compromise on density, parking requirements, and setbacks,” the cost of land, building materials, labour and service infrastructure will continue to push “even modestly sized and appointed homes” out of the financial reach of average Tofitians.

“If we truly want people of all income levels and stations in life to have dignified, affordable and adequate housing, there is likely no possible way to build affordable housing without increasing density in ways that Tofino is not entirely comfortable with. This is not easy for people to understand and accept, and I had to learn a lot about the true costs of development before I realized and accepted it myself,” she said.

“Such changes will change the rural nature and feel of some streets and sites, but we are quickly approaching a point where we have to live with change in the community we love so we can support the people who make this such a great place to live.”



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crews retrieved the overturned commercial truck from the crash scene on Friday, Nov. 20. Photo: Betsy Kline
UPDATE: Kootenay woman dies in Genelle collision

The incident occurred Thursday, Nov. 19.

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
104 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

IH is reporting the new numbers since Friday, Nov. 20

Trail RCMP seized illicit drugs, cash and a weapon following a traffic stop in West Trail on Nov. 18. Photo: Trail RCMP
West Kootenay man, woman face drug charges after traffic stop

Police report that three types of illicit drugs were seized as well as cash and a Taser

USA Today ranked the City of Rossland as it’s top Canadian ski town, and no. 2 in all of North America, while Nelson was ranked no. 10 overall. Photo: Jim Bailey.
Rossland and Nelson rank among top North American ski towns

USA Today ranked two West Kootenay communities among Top 10 Ski Towns in North America

Photo: Trail Times
Castlegar man and woman arrested in downtown Trail

Police allege the truck they were in had a stolen licence plate on the rear

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

More than 70 anglers participated in the bar-fishing demonstration fishery on Sept. 9, 2020 on the Fraser River near Chilliwack. DFO officers ticketed six people and seized four rods. A court date is set for Dec. 1, 2020. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Anglers ticketed in Fraser River demonstration fishery heading to court

Sportfishing groups started a GoFundMe with almost $20K so far for legal defence of six anglers

Most Read