Vancouver mayor’s promise to end street homelessness by 2015 fails
Published Tuesday, March 24, 2015 4:46PM PDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 24, 2015 5:12PM PDT
As volunteers conducted Vancouver’s annual homeless count Tuesday, it was clear Mayor Gregor Robertson’s promise to have everyone sheltered by 2015 had fallen short.
The finally tally isn’t expected to be released for weeks, but Robertson, who took part in the count, said he personally encountered and spoke with several homeless people over a handful of city blocks.
“There are still people out and there’s still work to do but it’s work that we can’t give up on,” Robertson told reporters. “We’ve got to continue making this a top goal of the city and ensuring that we do everything we can to get people into housing as soon as possible.”
The lofty goal, which Robertson made during the 2008 election campaign, has been dismissed by critics as unrealistic and naïve, but the mayor boasted the city has made significant progress.
During Robertson’s first year in office, about 48 per cent of the city’s homeless couldn’t find shelter. Three years into his term that had risen to 90 per cent, though by last year it had slipped back to 70.
Robertson said a number of roadblocks, including unaffordable rents and a steady influx of new homeless people into the city, stood in the way of achieving his goal.
“We’re seeing that same challenge affecting cities down the west coast of North America,” he said. “It’s a real challenge when people drift to the west where it’s warmer.”
Coun. Kerry Jang said there’s reason to be optimistic; 56 housing units just opened in Taylor Manor, which also offers mental health supports. Vancouver invested in 500 units of permanent, interim, and shelter housing last year alone, according to the city.
But there have also been about 500 single room occupancy units lost in the Downtown Eastside in recent years, as well as provincial cuts, including 160 units scrapped from the Chez Soi program dealing with mental illness.
“They’re pulling out of the business of being involved in housing at a time when the crisis really couldn’t be worse,” the NDP’s David Eby said.
Robertson credited the province with stepping up in recent years, noting the 14 sites provided in partnership with B.C. Housing that are permanently housing hundreds of residents, but said Vancouver’s homelessness problem won’t go away without more resources from both the provincial and federal government.
“The shelter rate has stayed abysmally low,” he said. “There’s almost no housing left in Vancouver at $375 a month, so people are spending everything they can muster together and a lot of people can’t even afford that.”
B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the province continues to fund temporary shelters every winter when it’s needed most through the Homeless Emergency Action Team program.
“The rest of the year we have more than enough shelters in Vancouver to handle the population,” Coleman said.
Last year’s homeless count, released in late April, tallied 538 street homeless in Vancouver. The city’s overall homeless population, including those sleeping in shelters or couch-surfing, was 1,798.
With files from CTV Vancouver’s Jon Woodard