Community Stories

Born in Singapore and having spent many years living in a “vertical village,” Francis Heng has seen firsthand how communities can flourish in high-rises. But when they first arrived in Vancouver 17 years ago, Heng experienced culture shock. In contrast to their hometown where high-rise living is the norm, they sensed building residents in Vancouver didn’t talk to each other.

“That was really strange for me,” Heng describes. “I saw a lot people were very shy and afraid to talk to their neighbours.”

Houses in the community of Sayward in Strathcona Regional District.

In early 2019, Campbell River announced a partnership with BC Housing to create 50 units of supportive housing in the City within two years. To members of the Strathcona Community Health Network, the announcement was an achievement resulting from years of efforts to demonstrate the need for adequate and appropriate housing in the region, including the development of an equity-focused Housing Needs Assessment.

More and more, local governments in BC and beyond are appointing social planners to focus specifically on improving the well-being of their community members. In 2016, the City of Delta made the decision to create a social planner position to assess the social needs of the community and develop a Social Action Plan to address them. Gillian McLeod, a former librarian with a 30-year career in the public service, was up to the task.

A view of downtown Campbell River.

In a pivotal move to address housing challenges in Strathcona Regional District, the City of Campbell River has announced that they will support the hiring of a coordinator for the Campbell River Coalition to End Homelessness.

The City is providing one-time funding of $10,000 for the coordinator position, which will provide the Coalition with capacity to develop a strategic plan and explore potential funding opportunities for affordable housing and housing-related initiatives in the region.

Communities are experts in their own health challenges, says Hughes. In her role with Northern Health, she collaborates with community members across the Health Authority to enable access to  the information and resources they need to support their health and well-being.

“Northern B.C. was probably the last place I ever thought I would be,” says Holly Hughes, a healthy settings advisor with Northern Health. “Honestly, since I moved here, I've kind of fallen in love with it.”

Missing middle housing includes housing structures with a density between that of single family homes and mid-rise buildings, such as duplexes, triplexes, and townhouses.

Social well-being is a significant component of overall health and well-being. The homes we live in play a substantial role in shaping our mental and social well-being, and the way we design homes can promote—or impede—social connectedness, inclusion and trust between neighbours.[i][ii] To guide the implementation of their Official Community Plan, the Township of Esquimalt is developing a set of policy guidelines for the design of low-rise multi-family (or “missing middle”) housing, with the aim of enhancing the social well-being of those living in these housing types.

In the last six years, two local studies have both found that many citizens of the Lower Mainland experience loneliness and isolation. Social isolation is a serious health risk in communities; in fact, engaging in a social activity such as joining a club can reduce a persons’ chance of death by 50% in the first year—the same impact as quitting smoking.[1]

Each Regional Health Authority across BC uses a slightly different approach for healthy communities work. Read more about how each Regional Health Authority works alongside local governments to build healthy communities, including a breakdown of the process, a case study, and information on how to collaborate with your health authority to achieve your community's health and well-being goals.

A photo of the New Westminister skyline from the waterfront. New Westminster is a great example of how the application of an equity lens can improve these social determinants of health. Their ultimate goal is a city without systemic barriers.

New Westminster, a community of 70,000 in Metro Vancouver, is a leader in social justice and equity. In 2011, they became the first city in Canada to adopt a living wage policy. In 2016, they formally adopted a Community Poverty Reduction Strategy, and over the next few years, as part of their Envision 2032 process, they will work towards creating a social equity policy.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) serves 25% of British Columbia’s population, or over 1 million people, across Greater Vancouver and the Coast Garibaldi area. Its coverage area spans urban settings like Vancouver and Richmond, as well as rural communities on the central coast like Bella Bella, and includes 14 Indigenous communities.