Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart introduced a motion on Tuesday calling for options and “collective action” to provide emergency COVID-19 relief for the city’s homeless population.
The motion will ask staff to investigate the feasibility and costs of the following three options to accelerate the creation of emergency housing for homeless Vancouver residents:
- Leasing or purchasing housing units including hotels, single-room occupancy residences, and other available housing stock;
- Establishing a “temporary emergency relief encampment” on vacant public or private land;
- Temporarily converting City-owned buildings into emergency housing or shelter space.
“It’s clear that we are approaching a tipping point, not just in Strathcona, but in terms of how we support all of our marginalized neighbours,” said Stewart. “I’ve spent the summer months talking to community members, business owners, advocates, and healthcare experts, and it’s clear to me that once the summer is behind us, we will be in a dangerous place between the start of wet and cold weather and a vaccine yet to be available.”
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Stewart said the meeting he has called will be “an opportunity for us to work as a whole Council, as this is an issue I know all members are concerned about and wrestling with. Everyone recognizes that we’ve worked too hard on housing, on overdoses, on COVID as a whole city to just watch people become sick again, or watch people permanently become homeless.”
He added that caring for all community residents during the COVID-19 public health emergency is a joint responsibility of all levels of government, not just Vancouver’s.
“We need to quickly determine what the best course of action is, and then work with our partners in senior government to rapidly deploy supportive services including overdose prevention, access to safer supply, COVID-19 testing, as well as culturally-appropriate services with emphasis on Indigenous traditions of healing and wellness,” he said.
And “no matter the course of action, we must all remember that the only way we can respond to people going through the hardest moments imaginable is by being compassionate and generous.”
Stewart’s motion will be brought forward at a special council meeting this Friday, September 11.