September 2021 Update: Housing in the CRD

September 2021 Update: Housing in the CRD r1 ...

September @ SOVI

Housing Justice National Platform feature image. A cartoon illustration shows seven people, all holding signs that signify the fight for housing justice. The background is turquoise and there are white line sketches of buildings behind the people. Their signs read "Housing Justice," "Sustainable Homes," "Community Controlled," "Affordable Homes," "Fair Homes," and "Safe Homes." FEATURE INTERVIEW

September always feels like the beginning of something new, so there’s no better time to change things up. Our monthly newsletter will now focus on the future- so instead of reflecting, we’re looking forward!

Victoria, and the Capital Regional District, continues to grapple with a housing crisis that is felt throughout the community. The most heavily impacted are those who are unhoused. Our feature interview for September is with the founder of The Existence Project, Marko Curuvija. This nonprofit seeks to build connection and understanding between housed and unhoused folks in the community, through storytelling and workshops. With a background in Strategic Leadership, Marko helped found the Existence Project through a journey of reconciling with his own past experiences of isolation.

How is the Existence Project unique in its approach and mission?

What we're looking to do is to humanize homelessness. We’re doing that through public discourse, physical space where people can come together, and by examining what kind of policy shifts we could impact. We actually aren't unique in a lot of ways; there’s lots of groups doing anti-stigma work, and a storyteller approach isn’t necessarily innovative. What I think is innovative is our question, ‘How do we build understanding and bring down people’s barriers when working with folks with very few positive experiences interacting with the unhoused community?' Something I always consider is positionality. Within our workshops, we train to facilitate conversations that give people opportunities to reflect on what they learned, to share their own experiences, and to come together to envision inclusive working solutions.

Could you tell me about your workshops, and how they were developed?

I started this project by interviewing people that were unhoused around Victoria. I had a bunch of ideas, so I went to the mayor's community drop-in to pitch the idea of a workshop to bring together people from all walks of life, to explore stories. There was a man there who was unhoused, who suggested I come by the Anawim House drop-in and recovery centre. From there, we piloted this writing workshop. Once a week, we had five housed people, and five people from the drop-in centre come in. We designed a process where they would eventually have a written piece of their story to share, collectively.

I think lots of social projects observe people like they’re a subject, and don’t provide active roles for them. In society, the main place I’d interact with people who are unhoused is the YMCA, the downtown library, or public pools and parks. Those interactions aren’t super deep. You have to ask, why? It’s a function of colonialism in early urban design. In Victoria, the police enacted something called the vagrancy law. It was essentially the first real piece of policy related to homelessness, which was replicated across Canada. It was created to move people that were ‘obstructing the flow of commerce and commercial goods,’ in an attempt to emulate Victorian and British values. It was enforcement of policy to displace people- predominantly Indigenous communities- that were already displaced. That creates a disconnection from self and from the community. Today, we’re seeing a modern reenactment of this.

I think story is the medium to challenge this. We had this writing-based program, and quickly learned about the different needs of the unhoused community through conversation and focus groups. For example, expecting someone to come every week at the same time is completely unrealistic. I did that naively. The same gentleman who I met in the drop-in worked with me to redesign the workshop. We made it a one-time drop in, focused on oral storytelling. There's one storyteller who had been homeless in their lifetime, and we also include local artists and community allies in a dialectic process. It usually results in a piece of art, or writing to share. We also retrofitted the process to work in schools and with youth. When COVID hit, we adapted again. Since we work as a connector, we’re looking at stigma more intentionally- to target demographics on the fence. Now, we’re continuing to look at how we can reach the most people, efficiently.

How is working as a nonprofit in this field a benefit or/and a limitation?

All the institutions we’re part of have colonial history, which is difficult. The amount of energy it takes to start a nonprofit from ground-level is so hard. It takes a degree of financial stability, intellectual rigor to write grants effectively, and there's social capital required to connect with people or to enter certain circles. There's all these barriers to participation. At past nonprofits I worked for, it was white, male executive directors, whose money came from unethical industries. You're filtering out a whole group of people that would make excellent leaders of social and environmental justice initiatives. Many of the people most willing to advocate for actual systemic change are those really affected. But, because of these barriers, the system facilitates incremental Band-Aid solutions. A lot of nonprofits do good work within the system, but they are adapting to the social inequalities within the system without changing anything systemically.

Also, I understand the reasons for limitations on political activities, but only 10% of charities actions can be deemed political. Who decides what's political? I don't think some human rights issues are partisan issues. The last thing is the culture of scarcity in this sector. Two of the biggest service providers in Victoria, don't cooperate at all- they're at odds over things like funding. There's a lack of coordination amongst different service providers, and that’s a huge problem.

In your experience, how can folks learn about homelessness, and provide aid, while prioritizing understanding and dignity for those impacted by it?

A big thing for us is to identify where people are at, and meet them there. There's the basic premise of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Asking, ‘How would I want any kind of person to be treated?’ There's a lot of work to be done at an informative level. For example, in ethics around filming, and working with other people's stories- especially when they’re from marginalized communities. Frankly, there aren't a ton of resources out there. I usually say, you don't have to talk to every single person. But, you can make eye contact, and when the interaction feels safe, try to talk to someone. I think poverty is really in isolation. The lack of money and resources is almost secondary to this overwhelming sense of ‘other,’ and feeling that you don’t belong.

What’s something you believe folks in Victoria need to learn about homelessness in their community?

Becoming part of the conversation is becoming part of the solution. Start having dialogue in an intersectional way, and let's see where it goes.

Are you able to tell me about the Existence Project’s upcoming documentary?

It's going to be an hour and a half documentary, called Moving Day. It's the result of six months of filming in Beacon Hill Park, which was the one of the largest residences for people that were unhoused during COVID. It tells the story of six different individuals, and their role in the community. Since we were able to put more resources into it, I hope it’ll challenge misconceptions, and help with the fear of the unhoused. Also, it takes a look at why someone might choose a specific park to live in, as well as their day-to-day life. There’s a lot I think the public wouldn’t know about. The first official screening will be November 18th, in the theatre, hopefully.

Anything to add?

Check out our Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, if you’re interested. We have a monthly Community Builder membership program, which is karma based, so you can donate whatever you’d like. This community will be the first to be invited to the screening!

Also, we’re trying to provide a platform for our storytellers to continue their own work, to continue to decolonize and end the hierarchy within nonprofits. One of our past storytellers is trained in somatic therapy, and has been running workshops for unhoused folks- it’s called the Seraphim Project. She has faced a lot of barriers with starting her own nonprofit. We’d like to continue to support initiatives that are more accessible, or provide something beyond what we do. We are looking for grassroots initiatives, predominantly in BC, that include people with lived experience in the process, who are looking to create systemic shifts in policy or in ways of being. I'm also curious to see what else is happening around the country, if anyone has any leads.


In August, we held an information session for our new Partnership Program, designed to connect experienced and aspiring nonprofit practitioners to share experiences and knowledge. We are looking forward to seeing this program move forward to help grow local connections!

We are quickly approaching our first fall event, (You)th Talks: Intersections and Climate Change. This youth-led panel focuses on intersectional feminist, climate, and other anti-oppressive ideologies, practices and actions. If you want to be inspired by the ability of youth to mobilize for global change, you're in luck. These local, accomplished, and passionate panelists will also participate in a roundtable discussion following their presentations. Register now!

SOVI is seeking a coordinator for our Unconference this fall. The Unconference is a virtual gathering of thinkers and actors in the nonprofit and international development sectors on “Vancouver Island.” It aims to foster community connection, and to create new relationships between diverse actors on critical issues in social and environmental justice. If you have experience developing online Unconferences, or gently unstructured virtual community events, and feel strongly about community and partnership building, submit a proposal! The deadline is September 27th. Details here.

As a team, we’re continuing to learn and change. Currently, we are rethinking and reasserting our core organizational and programming values. We are examining our internal structure and communication, and seek ways to ensure it is focused on anti-oppressive and feminist foundations. If you’re part of an organization on a similar journey, feel free to share any resources that have aided your team- we’d love to hear from you.


Image shows a stack of cards reading 'COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card', held together by an elastic band.

In August, a National Rent Report placed Victoria as the fourth most expensive city for renters in Canada, following a nation-wide trend of increased housing costs. The housing crisis, lack of affordable units, and high market prices are felt across the community. Students are struggling to find spaces to live- some have been forced to delay their education, or look into schools outside Vancouver Island. Folks are joining car camping communities as they endlessly search for rentals. Others are facing eviction and unsure of where they will go next. From students, to professionals, to seniors- the strain of precarious housing weighs heavily. The City of Victoria is currently in the second phase of its Housing Strategy, which includes actions to address housing affordability, supply, and policies. This lack of secure housing threatens the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals- especially goals 1, 2, 3, and 11: no poverty, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, and sustainable cities and communities.

The impact of COVID-19, and public policy and measures to combat the virus, continue to highlight its disproportionate impact on unhoused people. Worldwide, the pandemic caused closures of shelters, public spaces, and social services. Overcrowding leads to heightened risk of infection, and there are increased barriers to getting vaccinated for those without identification, stable addresses, and access to public health information. With the rollout of vaccination ‘passports’ and ‘certificates’ in parts of Canada, which are required to gain access to many public areas, unhoused folks must consider how to navigate the next step in the pandemic. For many, access to a printer or cellphone isn't realistic, and holding onto physical documents is also more difficult. In Victoria, advocates for unhoused folks have remarked that many ‘optional’ public spaces are necessities for those facing housing insecurity, and urge for more detailed information on overcoming this barrier.


  • Proud2Vote 2021 I September 13th I Qmunity, Rainbow Refugee, LOUD Business Association, CBRC
    • Attend a BC-focused federal election townhall! Candidates from the four national parties with seats upon dissolution will be invited to share opening and closing statements, and field questions that have come from coalition members and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in general.

    • Find details at:
  • (You)th Talks: Intersections and Climate Justice | September 16th | SOVI BCCIC
    • Are you inspired by youth organization and activism? You will be after this panel! Join a meaningful and informative conversation on the connection between global change and justice work. Our local and accomplished youth panelists will dive into intersectional feminist, anti-oppressive and climate change movements.

    • Details and registration, here:
  • Youth SDG Summit I September 22-24 I Unite 2030
    • The Youth SDG Summit convenes the brightest talent from every country and sector, working to accelerate social impact and the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The Youth SDG Summit is a multi-session event, with 100+ sessions taking place completely virtually over 3-days.

    • Details and registration, here:
  • Keeping it Human: Community Workshop I September 29th I The Existence Project

  • One Wave Gathering 2021 I Month of September I Pacific Peoples' Partnership
    • One Wave is a vibrant, community celebration of South Pacific and Indigenous cultures, art, and knowledge hosted on the traditional territory of the Songhees, Esquimalt, and W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations. Guided by the themes of healing and resurgence, artists, knowledge keepers, speakers, and Elders will share their stories through song, dance, film, traditional food, and art.

    • Check out all the free events, here:
  • #UprootTheSystem Global Climate Strike I September 24th I Fridays for Future
    • Socio-economic crises such as racism, sexism, ableism, class inequality, and more amplify the climate crisis, and vice versa. We are united in our fight for climate justice, but we must also acknowledge that we do not experience the same problems; nor do we experience them to the same extent. Strike to demand intersectional climate justice!
    • For more information, visit:


"Housing is a human right. There can be no fairness or justice in a society in which some live in homelessness, or in the shadow of that risk, while others cannot even imagine it.”

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SOVI is based on the stolen lands of the Lək̓ʷəŋən Peoples (known by the colonial name of Victoria, BC). To contact us directly, please write us at r34.

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