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Despite steps taken, homeless counts show challenges ahead

The first-ever provincewide homeless-count report shows that while B.C. has taken important first steps to house British Columbians, more work needs to be done to prevent and address homelessness in B.C. communities.

According to the report — which brings together statistics from 24 communities over the past two years — at least 7,655 people are experiencing homelessness across a broad demographic of individuals, families, youth and seniors. Indigenous peoples and former children in care are significantly overrepresented.

“Too many British Columbians — working, on a pension, suffering from illness — have been left behind for far too long,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “This level of homelessness should never have been allowed to take hold. The numbers we’re seeing make us even more determined to make housing more available and affordable for all British Columbians.”

The B.C. government began working with partners to take action on homelessness soon after being sworn in last year by fast-tracking modular housing in 22 communities, and supportive housing for Indigenous peoples, seniors, and women and children fleeing violence.

“Having a place to call home, knowing there is somewhere to go that is safe and secure means different things to different people,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “For some, it is a new start, opening a door to new opportunities. For others it is hope, relief from grinding despair.

“At the same time, we know there are many more people who still need a safe place to call home. We continue to work closely with all our partners to find solutions, build new housing and deliver effective supports. The kind of homelessness we’re seeing today didn’t happen overnight and it won’t be fixed overnight, but we haven’t waited to get started.”

The report is the first time this information has been compiled on a provincial level and will help government, community partners and housing providers develop better supports and services to help people who are experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. Government will release a homelessness action plan as part of B.C.’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy in early 2019.

“This report is another reminder of why we have made it a priority to rebuild the social programs people rely on,” added Simpson. “Many people living on the street are struggling with challenges that are intensified through their experience of being homeless. You can’t live on the street and not be affected both mentally and physically by the constant struggle.

“In the coming months, we will be looking to other levels of government and our community partners to help us deliver a wide range of supports, with a focus on early intervention services that will help prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.”

Addressing poverty and homelessness is a shared priority between government and the B.C. Green caucus and is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement.

Quotes:

Celine Mauboules, executive director, Homelessness Services Association of BC —

“The report provides important baseline information including demographic and service needs of individuals experiencing homelessness and is an important step to understanding and addressing the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. Finalizing the report was a significant undertaking and we are grateful for the support we received from participating communities.”

Jill Atkey, CEO, BC Non-Profit Housing Association —

“That nearly 8,000 British Columbians on a typical night have no place to call home is a problem that has persisted for far too long. For some time now, we have advocated for a report like this that looks at homelessness at a provincial level. Good baseline data will allow us to track the impacts of the historic provincial investments being made into housing and poverty reduction, and our collective efforts in solving a crisis that reaches every corner of British Columbia.”

Quick Facts:

  • In March 2018, the Province provided the Homelessness Services Association of BC with $550,000 to co-ordinate homeless counts in 12 communities, compile that data with data from other communities and prepare the provincial homeless count report.
  • Investments in housing and supports for people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness include:
    • more than 2,000 modular homes in partnership with 22 communities;
    • 2,500 supportive housing units;
    • $734 million over 10 years for 1,500 spaces of transition and second-stage housing to provide a safe place for women and children escaping violent relationships;
    • $550 million over 10 years for 1,750 new units of social housing for Indigenous peoples, both on- and off-reserve; and,
    • expanded eligibility for the Rental Assistance Program (RAP) and Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER). More than 35,000 households will benefit from the enhancements. The average RAP payment will go up by approximately $800 a year and the average SAFER payment will go up by approximately $930 a year.
    • In addition to over 2,000 permanent, year-round shelter spaces available throughout B.C., the Province is working with municipalities and non-profits to provide 1,454 temporary shelter spaces and 772 extreme weather response shelter spaces and will open additional shelters throughout the season as needed.
  • Investments to make life more affordable in B.C. include:
    • $472 million over three years to increase income and disability assistance rates by $100 a month, a move that benefits 190,000 people in the province;
    • $20.9 million over three years to increase earnings exemptions for everyone on assistance by $200 a month, allowing people to keep more of the money they earn; and,
    • $214.5 million over three years to create a new transportation supplement for people on disability assistance.

Learn More:

2018 Report on Homeless Counts in B.C.: www.bchousing.org/home  

Homes for B.C., a 30-point plan to address housing affordability for British Columbians: www.bchousing.org/partner-services/Building-BC

B.C.’s Poverty Reduction Strategy consultation: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/bcpovertyreduction

For more information on B.C.’s RAP and SAFER: www.bchousing.org/housing-assistance/rental-assistance-financial-aid-for-home-modifications

A backgrounder follows.


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