Home­less­ness reaches record high in Van­cou­ver

StarMetro Vancouver - - FRONT PAGE - Matt Kiel­tyka

A record num­ber of home­less peo­ple were iden­ti­fied in the City of Van­cou­ver’s most re­cent count.

The 2016 Home­less Count — a 24-hour snap­shot con­ducted by 450 vol­un­teers on March 9 — iden­ti­fied 1,847 peo­ple liv­ing ei­ther on the streets of Van­cou­ver (539) or in its shel­ters (1,308).

That num­ber rep­re­sents 0.31 per cent of Van­cou­ver’s en­tire pop­u­la­tion and is the high­est on record since the city started the count in 2005.

Mayor Gre­gor Robert­son, who once ran on a plat­form to end home­less­ness by 2015, was un­der fire Tues­day for his failed cam­paign prom­ise and called on fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments to do more.

“We were in a home­less cri­sis in 2008, record lev­els of home­less­ness at that point, and I cer­tainly made as­sump­tions that the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral govern­ment would step up,” said Robert­son.

“I re­gret the fact that we weren’t able to rally the B.C. and fed­eral govern­ment to the lev­els needed to solve home­less­ness in Van­cou­ver. I think it’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity that we all need to take se­ri­ously and I’m not let­ting up on it.”

Robert­son said se­nior lev­els of govern­ment need to raise wel­fare rates and boost so­cial sup­ports for youth ag­ing out of the fos­ter care sys­tem.

Hous­ing ad­vo­cate Jean Swan- son, with the Carnegie Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Project, said she wasn’t sur­prised the num­ber of home­less is up.

“More peo­ple are com­ing into our of­fice seek­ing hous­ing,” she said.

“There’s an ab­so­lute lack of af­ford­able hous­ing and peo­ple on wel­fare can’t af­ford to pay rent.”

Sixty-one per cent of those iden­ti­fied in the count have been home­less for less than a year.

Nearly a third of those liv­ing in shel­ters year-round are em­ployed, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey.

De­spite the city and prov­ince’s part­ner­ship in cre­at­ing 1,500 units of sup­port­ive hous­ing over the last few years, city coun­cil heard more than 2,300 peo­ple re­main on the BC Hous­ing wait­list.

The city has of­fered 20 sites through­out the city, val­ued at $250 mil­lion, to the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments for 3,500 units of af­ford­able hous­ing.

Non-Par­ti­san As­so­ci­a­tion Coun. Melissa De Gen­ova said just build­ing hous­ing and, in its ab­sence, point­ing fingers at se­nior gov­ern­ments won’t solve the prob­lem.

“I didn’t agree with the mayor’s prom­ise (to end home­less­ness) be­cause I didn’t agree it was some­thing that was re­al­is­tic. But had we seen the num­bers go down, at least I could have walked away from coun­cil to­day feel­ing that we are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence,” she said.

“In­stead, now we see that home­less­ness is not only up but that we’re see­ing dif­fer­ent groups that per­haps were not iden­ti­fied be­fore.”

De Gen­ova sug­gested the city should look into more grants and mu­nic­i­pal fund­ing for non-profit as­so­ci­a­tions and agencies able to ad­dress peo­ple’s hous­ing and men­tal health needs.

It also needs to ur­gently ad­dress af­ford­abil­ity in the city, she said.


A man sleeps on a bench at Op­pen­heimer Park, the site of a home­less camp, in Van­cou­ver’s Down­town East­side.

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