John Grezenda has been living on the streets of Duncan for the past five weeks.
Grezenda, 81, is disabled and gets around on a motor scooter.
But that scooter now serves as Grezenda’s home and bed at night, and he fears for his already deteriorating health as the nights grow cooler with fall just around the corner, and the few blankets he has are proving to be no match for the cold.
Grezenda collects an old age pension and has funds to pay for accommodations, but the small amount of money he has that used to cover room and board now no longer comes close to meeting his basic needs.
He said he stayed for awhile at a local shelter, but claims he was falsely accused of plugging up a toilet and was forced out.
Grezenda said he was couch surfing, but has run out of friends that are willing to take him in as his situation continues indefinitely.
“I’m too old to be outside day and night like this,” he said.
“My health is getting worse and I’m in bad shape. I guess I’ll be dead soon.”
With rental vacancy rates reported to be only about one per cent in the Cowichan Valley, local authorities have acknowledged the region, as well as much of the rest of the Island, is experiencing a homeless crisis.
Signy Madden, executive director of the United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island, said the situation is being exacerbated by the high costs of housing and rent in larger centres like Victoria and Vancouver that are forcing many to head for smaller and less expensive areas, like the Cowichan Valley.
That causes those who are on the lower end of the housing and rental market in the Valley, including those like Grezenda who have limited incomes, to be forced out of the market as house prices and rents skyrocket.
“Many agencies have become very concerned about this, and a lot of work is being done to try and address it,” Madden said.
“Groups and organizations, including the United Way, Cowichan Housing Association, Cowichan Valley Regional District and Cowichan Social Planning, are currently working with consultants to create a community plan to look at what can be done to deal with homelessness from all levels.”
Madden said the groups hope to make a case for more government funding and programs if they can provide timely and accurate information on exactly what is needed and where the resources should be directed.
She said the groups hope to have the community plan completed by the end of March.
“Of course that doesn’t solve the issue in the short term and doesn’t necessarily help those experiencing emergencies, like Mr. Grezenda, right now,” Madden said.
“It’s a burning issue and we’re working hard to get the best plan in place as quickly as possible.”