With the number of homeless camps in existence throughout the Lower Mainland now reported at 70, Metro Vancouver is calling on all the provincial political parties to take action on the the issue of homelessness.
“The homelessness crisis in Metro Vancouver has reached a state of emergency,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. “The status quo has failed to prevent growth in the number of homeless people year after year throughout the region.”
Robertson is also chair of Metro Vancouver’s Regional Homelessness Task Force, which released its position paper: Addressing Homelessness in the Metro Vancouver Region, on Monday.
The paper paper contains new research and recommendations aimed at reversing the increase in homeless numbers across 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% every year since 2011.
As well, approximately five people 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, the report finds.
In the midst of all this, local shelters are estimated to currently already be at 97 % 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.
Read added that immediate action “is required to address the several thousand men, women and children currently living without permanent shelter.”
Some action the task force would like to see includes the opening of 1,000 additional units of transitional housing throughout the region by the end of 2017, and for both 2018 and 2019.
“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,” Roberston said.
He added that local governments “have been using every tool” available to them t0 address the lack of affordable housing.
However, he said, “we need to know what each provincial party will do to address this crisis.”
His sentiments were echoed by Read.
“The provincial government has the responsibility and resources to better manage this crisis, in collaboration with the federal and local governments,” she said.
The crisis poses a large cost to local municipalities as well, the report adds.
“Responding to the demands of a homeless person costs taxpayers $55,000 annually, compared with $37,000 per person to house them,” it said.
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.