Jane used to be able to afford a place of her own in Nanaimo.
Now, she’s struggling to find a place to live, even with a roommate to help pay rent.
“It seems like every time I get to see [an apartment], there’s either somebody with more income, or a better job. Nowadays, I think money talks, to get housing.”
“It’s really depressing,” says Jane, to see the cost of rent outpace any raise in pay.
It’s a difficult trend to witness, says Tillicum Lelum’s Indigenous Housing Navigator, Holly Paquette.
“I feel that, too,” she says. “I work three jobs, my husband works two jobs, and we still sometimes will look at our bank account and be like, ‘What the hell? Where did our money go?’”
“It’s really hard because sometimes, no matter how much you do, it’s just not enough.”
But Holly’s work as an Indigenous Housing Navigator has resulted in homes for hundreds of people since 2019 and kept many from losing their homes.
Her job encompasses everything from doing housing loss prevention, working with landlords to connect tenants and keep that relationship positive, help navigating the rental market, finding emergency housing, navigating BC Housing, help with applying for rental subsidies, going to arbitration with clients, sourcing furniture, clothes, food and more.
Her clients include non-Indigenous folks as well, though she notes that the program is particularly important for the Indigenous community because it’s culturally safe, and Tillicum Lelum can provide wraparound services.
Overall, since the end of 2019, Holly has been able to house 189 family units (which encompasses individuals, roommates, couples and families with children).
“I’ve helped with emergency housing for 32 (families) and I’ve been able to do housing loss prevention for 114 (families),” says Holly, adding that she is proud of those numbers. “Housing anybody is a success.”
And yet she has such an urge to do more for people, like Jane. And more need help. Holly says in 2019, she had 165 clients. In 2020 she had 493.
Jane has been a client of Holly’s for years, and though she currently has housing through Island Crisis Care Society’s Samaritan House, it’s not a place where she can thrive, say Holly and Jane.
Part of that is because Jane is hoping to move out of the downtown area to get away from the drug environment that took her sister’s life.
“Two years ago, she OD’d,” says Jane.
“We were able to have a funeral for her … It’s going to be two years coming up on the 18th of June, and I still have a hard time dealing with her being gone. There was 11 years between me and her. I’m the oldest child, and she was the youngest.
“We were really close. I’m still dealing with it.”
Holly has been a good listener, as well as a housing navigator, she says, willing to sit down and listen to what Jane is going through. “She’s a really, really good soul that way.”
Working part-time at the Labieux Road supportive housing and living near downtown, Jane says it’s difficult to be around people who use, especially some of the people who knew her sister.
While Jane says she’s so grateful to the staff at Samaritan House for the support they give her, she and Holly are doing their best to find her a place away from the painful memories of her sister’s street life.
And Holly understands how urgent it can be to get someone not just housed, but in a situation where they can thrive.
While also working in a shelter, Holly says she’s seen what living in an environment that’s not right for people can do.
“I’ve seen so many very well-rounded, capable people who walk into those shelters who just need a little bit of extra support. When they walk out of there, they are completely different people, like completely … I really wish there was just more intervention before it got to that point.”
“[Jane is] just so fricken amazing. It’s hard to watch somebody like Jane be stuck in a place where she just is not going to thrive … When I say, ‘Setting people up for success,’ sometimes you just can’t. Sometimes you just have to do what has to be done in the moment and just hope that something can change for the better for them.”
In addition to the overall lack of housing, Holly notes that many landlords have become quite choosy about who they rent to, making it harder for families or people with less steady income, or who are on income assistance. Often, Holly and her client will contact a landlord, because clients often have far less success getting contacted back.
Overall, Holly says she is grateful for the support that United Way British Columbia provides for the program, funded by the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy. “You guys make programs like these possible, and we appreciate it and the community appreciates it.”
But she says more is needed to address the need in the community.