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February 27, 2017, 3:43 pm

Metro Vancouver's Regional Homelessness Task Force Releases Homelessness Action Plan

Metro Vancouver

BURNABY - On February 27, Metro Vancouver’s Regional Homelessness Task Force released its position paper: Addressing Homelessness in the Metro Vancouver Region with new research findings and recommendations aimed at reversing the unprecedented rise in the number of homeless people living on the streets, in makeshift camps and temporary shelters across the region.

The report finds a number of disturbing trends that show a homelessness crisis is affecting all corners of Metro Vancouver. With the discovery that there are more than 70 homeless camps throughout the region, the Task Force estimates about 4,000 people are in immediate need of housing now, while the number of unsheltered homeless has jumped 26 per cent annually since 2011. Approximately five additional people will become homeless within the region each week, while more than 60,000 households in Metro Vancouver spend more than half their income on shelter, making them vulnerable to homelessness, according to the Task Force findings.

Metro Vancouver is calling on all provincial parties to commit to taking immediate action, including the opening of 1,000 additional units of transitional housing throughout the region by the end of 2017, and for both 2018 and 2019.

“The homelessness crisis in Metro Vancouver has reached a state of emergency, and the status quo has failed to prevent growth in the number of homeless people year after year throughout the region,” said Task Force Co-Chair and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Homelessness has increased steadily in Metro Vancouver over the past 15 years, driven by major gaps in social services for people with chronic health issues, mental illness or addictions, and exacerbated by the meteoric rise in rents, house prices and the cost of living.

At the same time, shelters are estimated to be at 97 per cent capacity.

“The research unequivocally demonstrates a complete system-wide failure in the social services network designed to assist the most vulnerable in the region,” said Task Force Co-Chair and Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read. “Immediate action is required to address the several thousand men, women and children currently living without permanent shelter, while a longer term comprehensive strategy is needed to reduce the pathways into homelessness and enhance the pathways out.”

With 70 homeless camps erected in Vancouver, Langley, Maple Ridge, North Vancouver, Surrey, Delta, Burnaby and Coquitlam, homelessness is truly a region-wide crisis.

“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,” adds Robertson. “Despite our best efforts, the homelessness crisis is spiraling 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 crisis poses significant costs to local municipalities, which spend extraordinary resources to deal with homelessness. Simply responding to the demands of a homeless person costs taxpayers $55,000 annually, compared with $37,000 per person to house them.

“The provincial government has the responsibility and resources to better manage this crisis, in collaboration with the federal and local governments,” adds Read.

The Task Force, struck last November, recommends the provincial and federal governments work with local municipalities and community agencies to implement an immediate action plan by the end of 2017. The action plan, which includes 12 key priorities, is based on three distinct goals: preventing people from becoming homeless, serving those who are homeless, and finding pathways out of homelessness.

Meaningful progress in each of the three areas is critical to the effective reduction of homelessness. Beyond increasing supply, all levels of government must invest wisely and expand rent subsidy programs to prevent people from becoming homeless, while providing more support for people with chronic health challenges.

The priorities range from developing a province-wide poverty reduction strategy to establishing more transitional housing for foster youth, providing home care for those with mental illness and addictions, and increasing the number of affordable and social housing units for the working poor.

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