People make their way in from the cold on a chilly winter night in Victoria.

Inside, mats are lined up on the gym floor at the First Metropolitan Shelter run by Our Place.

This is home for the night, as the homeless problem continues to grow.

“Our wait list is getting bigger and bigger, especially during the colder weather,” says First Met Shelter outreach worker Robert MacDonald. “We’re also aware that more people are on the streets and using other services so I think the numbers are definitely increasing.”

The 2018 homeless count found 1,525 people in Greater Victoria.

It’s an alarming number given the millions that have been spent to create more supportive housing units in response to Victoria’s tent city.

The province says approximately 320 units of subsidized and supportive housing have been added since that crisis.

Another 3,100 are in the works for Southern Vancouver Island the Gulf Islands to meet the growing demand.

“It hasn’t gotten better over recent years and I think it’s gotten to the point where it’s more visible on the streets and people are paying attention to it,” says Don Evans, CEO of Our Place Society.

Advocates say it’s actually more cost-effective to do something about homelessness.

Having someone living on the street costs taxpayers about $50,000 a year.

It’s about half that, around $25,000, to have someone in supportive housing.

“A lot of people on the street, I saw it happen over and over again, will get it together,” explains Us and Them filmmaker Krista Loughton. “They got to detox, they go to stabilization, they’re getting it together and then they’re released back onto the street because they don’t have housing.”

Loughton spent a decade following four homeless people on the streets of Victoria for Us and Them and says public perception needs to change.

“There’s still a tremendous amount of ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ point of view out there,” says Loughton. “They think homeless people have put themselves in that situation, that they’ve created it, they’ve made bad choices and here you go, this is your life now.”

Loughton and others say that by addressing the root causes of homelessness — things like childhood trauma, mental health and addiction issues — the problem could finally be solved.

CHEK will broadcast the Us and Them documentary on Feb. 23 which will be followed by a panel discussion on the homeless crisis. Let us know if you are tuning in here. 

Tess van Straaten