With more people struggling to find affordable housing in the Greater Victoria region, homelessness has become a key municipal election issue.

On Tuesday evening, Our Place Society is inviting all of the mayoral candidates in the region to a forum called “Solving Homelessness” to learn more about the issue.

“We’re in a context right now where the provincial and the federal governments are pretty aligned when it comes to housing and homelessness so there’s money available but we need to bring the municipalities on side,” said Our Place Society Executive Director Don Evans.

While tent cities like the one in Saanich’s Regina Park have made the issue more visible, Evans says it has also created divisions and made some reluctant to help.

“The tent cities that have developed in our community have created a lot of anxiety and fear and [it] has made it a little more difficult,” he said.

That’s something Shirley Jones hopes to change. Now one of the janitors at Our Place, she was homeless on and off for most of her life and a severe alcoholic.

“[I] became jittery, seeing spiders, afraid to go to sleep, I tried to commit myself,” she said.

Now years into recovery, she will be one of the people speaking at the forum and she hopes stories like hers will help the region’s mayoral candidates walk away with empathy and a willingness to help.

“Give a ear, listen to somebody, sit down offer them a coffee, hear their story, people have magnificent stories,” she said.

Don Evans says now is the time for municipalities to offer land for modular housing and cut red tape on affordable housing projects.

“If everyone did a little bit then we would have this problem solved,” he said.

But he says if the region’s mayors don’t get on board after election day, the region will be dealing with the same issues and having the same conversations four years from now.

The Solving Homelessness candidates forum takes place at First Metropolitan United Church in Victoria Tuesday evening. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

April Lawrence