B.C. government acquires properties for homeless
VANCOUVER - The B.C. government is spending $34 million to buy or lease 15 additional properties in Vancouver and nine other communities to try to alleviate homelessness.
The move increases the number of affordable-housing properties in the province has protected to 45 and bolsters the total number of housing units under the program to more than 2,000 from about 1,400.
"It is I think one of our great societal challenges to meet the needs of homeless people across the province, whether they have mental illnesses or addictions, to think of those people as individuals," Premier Gordon Campbell said Friday at a news conference inside an old Vancouver flophouse undergoing renovation.
The properties, mostly run by non-profit organizations, will also offer integrated services for residents to address issues such as mental illness and addictions.
While she praised the new acquisitions, NDP homelessness critic Jenny Kwan said the government's program is to protect existing properties from being converted to market housing, it doesn't add any new affordable housing stock.
"Most of the buildings are already housing people," Kwan said. "These are temporary solutions ... but the real solution needs for the government of Gordon Campbell to commit to building and adding new units of affordable housing into the market so that people can get off the streets permanently."
The Liberal government has said it wants to fast-track 12 social-housing development sites in Vancouver, she said, "but as of yet there has been no confirmation that these developments are moving ahead."
Campbell said the government has increased its funding for housing to $400 million a year, "almost triple what it was in 2001."
Low-income renters are also at risk of eviction because of tenancy legislation that tilts towards landlords, Kwan said, and the government's stringent requirements to access social services increases the risk of homelessness.
"The upcoming 2010 Winter Olympic Games will further amplify evictions across regions if tenancy protections are not put in place," she said.
Homelessness has more than doubled in Metro Vancouver since the Liberals took office in 2001, Kwan said.
"In fact across the province there are 10,000 to 15,000 people who are sleeping in the streets today, and that happened under Gordon Campbell's watch," she said.
The newly acquired properties range from single-room-occupancy hotels in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to a transition house for women fleeing abuse in Abbotsford to therapeutic community in Logan Lake.
Properties are also being acquired in Prince George, Nanaimo, Osoyoos, Mission, Williams Lake, Penticton and Kamloops.
Campbell said Housing Minister Rich Coleman is using the government's housing-innovation fund to find solutions to the problem.
"The things that work we'll continue building on and the things that don't work as well we can learn from and go on to the next stage," he said.
But Kwan was unimpressed by the premier's rhetoric.
"Frankly, he's been out of touch on the homelessness crisis," she said.