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OPINION: Lessons from the streets after a night with Courtenay’s homeless

Life in the street isn’t a life and more enforcement isn’t the solution
3:59 a.m. - Courtenay’s Connect Centre stands lifeless, on the night of Jan. 11, 2023.(Olivier Laurin / Comox Valley Record)

I spent the night of Jan. 11 on the streets of Courtenay to gain insight into the life of our region’s homeless population and understand (a fraction of) their reality.

Despite being central to numerous conversations and debates over the past years, the voice of those living in the streets has virtually never been acknowledged or consulted. Noticing this persistent oversight, I believed it was my duty, as a journalist, to incorporate their voices into the current discussion.

As a disclaimer, I want to make clear that the idea behind the article wasn’t to glorify or victimize this marginalized population. Rather, my goal was to humanize those who are often vilified on social media and dispel conceptions that are rooted in ignorance, fear, and prejudices.

Addiction is a disease

The majority of people I spoke to admitted suffering from their addiction—contrary to what some might believe. Though the origin of everyone’s addiction may differ (coping with past trauma, self-medication after a major accident, etc.), no one was revelling in the idea of getting their upcoming ‘fix’.

I’m no expert, but based on my observations and the testimonies I received, addiction is a crippling disease that permeates every sphere of one’s life. It affects the individual’s relationships, both physical and mental health, as well as overall well-being, making it incredibly challenging to overcome some of life’s daily challenges.

Paradoxically, the very addiction that keeps them on the streets also enables them to bear the reality of their plight.

Life in the street isn’t a life

Whether someone experiences homelessness due to mental health issues, the increasing cost of living, or an ongoing battle with addiction, not a single person I spoke with enjoyed living on the streets.

Exacerbated by a severe lack of shelter spaces, many highlighted the constant stress of living with a heightened fear of having their belongings stolen, being involved in violent altercations, or falling victim to sexual violence, among many other things.

Enforcement isn’t the solution

On top of that, everyone I spoke to agreed that the increasing enforcement by bylaw officers in recent months was, by far, their chief concern. Ironically, all unanimously added that these measures worsened the situation.

Many, like Sheldon, were puzzled by the municipality’s adoption of this stringent approach. They critiqued the rationale of city officials as to how raiding homeless camps and dispossessing people of their belongings, would provide meaningful results in solving anything.


After observing and reporting on the ongoing homelessness crisis for months and experiencing a night on the streets, my optimism has taken a hit. Not to be a bearer of bad news, but I struggle to perceive any improvement in our community, especially given that the homeless population has doubled in the last three years.

RELATED: Homelessness has jumped by 106 per cent in the Comox Valley

However, time and time again, I’ve observed that homelessness isn’t the problem in and of itself; it’s a mere symptom of a greater systemic illness.

Far from being a woke ideologue, as some may love to label me, I genuinely see this broken system as the main culprit in the deterioration of the ongoing issue. The escalation in bylaw enforcement, the scarcity of rehab and treatment centres, the persistent lack of low-income and supportive housing, insufficient shelter spaces, inefficient social services, and seeming idleness from our elected officials are all visible symptoms of a flawed system. No amount of additional band-aid solutions will solve the problem.

I believe we should redirect our focus away from blaming the homeless, who are often singled out as the epicentre of the issue, and turn our focus on scrutinizing the existing system—be it at the local, provincial, or federal level—that perpetuates (and worsens) the current situation.

Let me make this clear, I’m not letting everyone off the hook and blaming it all on the system. Those in the streets who allegedly committed criminal offences should be judged accordingly in due process of the law.

However, as a community, we should come together, regardless of our political or personal affiliations, to collectively seek proactive solutions. Express your opinions in a meaningful way, such as writing a letter to the editor, meeting with the mayor, attending city council meetings, and sharing your concerns with local officials, among other things.

As much as we might hate or be hurt by this ongoing crisis, the more we let it linger, the more it will grow out of control. As mentioned in my last column (in the Dec. 20 edition of the Record), if we fail to act now, the consequences of our inaction today will weigh heavily on tomorrow.

Olivier Laurin is a reporter at the Comox Valley Record