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Most B.C. residents say homelessness a major problem, governments doing bad job addressing it

Nearly three-quarters of British Columbians say homelessness is a major problem in the province right now, but significantly fewer say it's a major problem in their neighbourhoods.

These are some of the findings of a recent poll by Research Co., conducted against the backdrop of efforts to dismantle a tent city on Hastings Street in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside that the city's fire chief says is a significant public safety risk. 

The online survey of a representative sample of 800 B.C. residents found substantial frustration with all levels of government when it comes to addressing homelessness in the province.

Almost four-in-five survey respondents (79 per cent) said they felt homelessness had increased in B.C. over the last three years, and more than three-in-five (63 per cent) said it was on the rise in their municipality.

Similarly, 73 per cent said homelessness is a major problem for the province and 52 per cent said it's a major problem for their municipality. A significantly smaller portion of respondents – 27 per cent – said homelessness is a major problem in their immediate neighbourhood, though only about one-third (32 per cent) said it was not a problem at all.

Given these views, it's perhaps not surprising that 55 per cent of B.C. residents said their local government had done either a "bad" (32 per cent) or "very bad" (23 per cent) job of coming up with solutions to the problem.

Roughly the same number (56 per cent) said the provincial government has done a bad (33 per cent) or very bad (23 per cent) job addressing the issue, while the proportion holding this view of the federal government's response was even greater.

One-third (33 per cent) said Ottawa had done a bad job, and 28 per cent said it had done very badly, for a total of 61 per cent negative views.

Almost no one in B.C. thinks any level of government has done a "very good" job addressing homelessness. Just three per cent said this of the federal government, while four per cent said so about their municipal and provincial leaders.


As for what solutions British Columbians would like to see their governments propose, the poll tested four broad options, all of which are already being implemented, to one degree or another.

Sixty per cent of those polled agreed (24 per cent strongly and 36 per cent moderately) that B.C. should be "changing zoning laws to allow property owners to build more units on standard lots."

The City of Vancouver enacted a bylaw in September 2018 allowing duplexes to be constructed on most single-family residential lots in the city. Though the rules around duplexes have since been amended, they remain a development option on most lots.  

Nearly four-in-five survey respondents (78 per cent) either strongly (37 per cent) or moderately (41 per cent) with "offering incentives to developers if they focus on building affordable housing units."

Cities often require developers to create affordable housing in exchange for zoning variances allowing more density. The provincial government has also put $2 billion toward low-interest loans for development projects that focus on renters and buyers with average household incomes of $75,000. 

A majority of poll respondents also supported the use of tax dollars to build housing for homeless B.C. residents. Twenty-eight per cent strongly agreed with "devoting tax money to build units to house homeless residents," and another 39 per cent moderately agreed, for a total of 67 per cent support.

Though often maligned by neighbourhood residents, new social housing developments like the one recently approved for Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood meet this definition. 

Finally, fully 80 per cent of British Columbians agreed – either strongly (37 per cent) or moderately (43 per cent) – that governments should be "increasing temporary housing options for people experiencing homelessness."

There were numerous examples of this in 2020, when BC Housing acquired hotels in Vancouver and Victoria to provide temporary supportive housing for people living on the streets. 

The poll was conducted from Aug. 13 to 15, according to Research Co., which says it carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Detailed results of the poll can be found on the Research Co. website Top Stories

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