A project meant to provide housing for Vancouver's 1,500 homeless people has instead been giving priority to those already in low-rent hotels, or who are coming out of correctional, medical or addiction facilities, according to a new city report.
The document says a joint city/provincial program aimed at relieving Vancouver's chronic homeless problem has built 388 units so far – but only 144 of those units have gone to homeless people.
Mayoralty candidate Suzanne Anton was quick to react Sunday, saying the report raises troubling questions about Mayor Gregor Robertson's housing initiatives.
"Why are people coming out of correctional facilities being placed ahead of Vancouver's vulnerable homeless population?" she asked.
Mr. Robertson, however, said the decision on who goes into the facilities is made by BC Housing, and he said Ms. Anton was being critical without knowing all the facts.
"I am very concerned if we are not housing 100 per cent of the units with people who are homeless," he said. "There's certainly a shock to seeing the numbers as reported … we are going to need a full explanation … [but]I am committed to continuing our partnership with BC Housing."
The report, compiled by the city's community services group, provides a council committee with an update on a program that is planning to build 1,500 housing units at 14 different sites. The goal is to have about half the units built in the next three years and the total by 2021.
But most of the rooms completed so far have not gone to homeless people. The bulk of the spaces have been taken by people who were already housed in single-room occupancy hotels (SROs), or who had just been discharged from treatment or correctional facilities.
"At this point, the best data available indicates that for every three units built so far, just over one unit houses a person documented to have been homeless prior to moving in," states the report. "The other units are being filled with those currently in other housing … or those at risk of homelessness."
There are an estimated 1,600 people living on the streets of Vancouver, and the housing initiative is designed specifically to address that problem. But the report says the city's homeless strategy is based on the "assumption that the 1,500 units will be occupied by currently homeless individuals," not those transitioning from other facilities.
It states the city, BC Housing, and a non-profit group, Street to Home, together with the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, run an oversight committee that has been seeking to establish a "tenant mix" in the new units.
The report says that homeless people are being placed in the SROs that are vacated as the people that were in those rooms move up to the new facilities.
But it states "our focus needs to be on the 1,600 sheltered and street homeless – for whom these units were designed." It notes the new facilities are built with specific supports, such as access to nutritious food services, which the SROs do not have.