Homelessness task force calls on province for poverty reduction plan

Metro Vancouver mayors and business leaders present 12 priorities to help address tent cities and a lack of shelter spaces.

A task force of Metro Vancouver mayors and business leaders released 12 recommendations to combat homelessness in the region on Monday, again calling on the provincial and federal governments to create and fund a provincial poverty reduction plan.

The report focused on three goals: preventing people from becoming homeless, serving them if they become homeless, and helping them into housing.

“The research unequivocally demonstrates a complete system-wide failure in the social services network designed to assist the most vulnerable in the region,” said Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read, who helped lead the effort with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

The report recommended expanding home care for people with chronic health issues and addictions, and adding social housing units – key factors of homelessness, it said, that are outside local government jurisdiction.

But Housing Minister Rich Coleman said zoning is within the power of municipal governments, and that the province provided $375 million last year for affordable housing and rent supplements to more than 61,000 low-income households in Metro Vancouver, as well as emergency shelter spaces during the cold weather.

“Municipal zoning could accommodate higher densities, pre-zoned land could expedite the delivery of rental housing and stronger enforcement of bylaws could help to maintain existing rental buildings,” Coleman said in a news release Monday afternoon.

“Federal actions could include tax incentives to promote creation of affordable rental housing options in the private market and facilitating access to long-term low cost financing for non-profit and private rental housing.”

Other recommendations from the report include the province immediately opening 1,000 transitional housing units by the end of this year, and another 1,000 for 2018 and 2019 and increasing the shelter allowance and rent supplements to reflect the current market conditions.

Coleman pointed to 1,900 units of affordable rental housing, including about 300 units for homeless people, that are in the works in the region.

Two shelter proposals were once on the table for Maple Ridge, Read noted, and both were later rescinded by the province, leading to some people staying in the local shelter for 18 months as they waited to move into transitional housing.

“Their mental conditions and physical well being become worse over time,” she said. “They become harder to house.”

Meanwhile, both mayors said $375 per person for shelter operators to work with isn’t enough.

A homeless person costs taxpayers $55,000 each year they remain on the streets, the report said, compared to $37,000 per person once they’re housed.

“Local governments have been using every tool within their authority to address the lack of supply of affordable housing, including purchasing buildings for temporary housing and offering city-owned land for new development,” Robertson said.

“Despite our best efforts, the homelessness crisis is spiralling out of control and the upcoming homeless count is expected to show a dramatic increase region-wide. We need to know what each provincial party will do to address this crisis.”

The report indicates 4,000 people are currently homeless in Metro Vancouver, according to data from local cities.

About 70 encampments with up to four people have been erected in Vancouver, Langley, Maple Ridge, North Vancouver, Surrey, Delta, Burnaby and Coquitlam, with another 15 camps with more than four people across nine cities, from Vancouver to Langley.

On the prevention side, the task force recommends the province audit its current services offered for housing, homelessness, and mental illness, to identify current gaps.

Created in November, the task force includes six mayors and seven CEOs from the region. The report comes one month before the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count.

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