The City of Vancouver is unveiling an ambitious housing plan that it says will eradicate street homelessness by 2015.
The three-year plan includes completing 1,700 units of supportive housing, meant for residents with health or addiction issues who need specialized care, across 14 existing sites. The city would also build another 450 units of supportive housing and 1,500 units of social, or low-income, housing. As well, more shelters would be built where they're needed.
The proposal also calls for the creation of nearly 40,000 new units of housing for low- to moderate-income households by 2021.
According to a Metro Vancouver Homeless Count conducted in May, about 1,600 people in Vancouver are homeless. Councillor Kerry Jang said figuring out the proper mix of affordable, supportive and social housing in different neighbourhoods is crucial to end street homelessness.
"When it comes to homeless people, you want to put the right housing in the right place," he said on Thursday. "If they call that neighbourhood their home, you want to put [housing]there, you don't want to make them shift all over town, and homeless populations do shift over time, they have different demographics. West Point Grey, there are much older males and downtown core, there are a lot of youth, so we have to be able to tailor the housing for particular groups."
Mr. Jang also emphasized placing more shelters in areas such as Commercial Drive, where there is a significant homeless population. He said shelters act as a crucial first step in taking people off the streets. The shelters allow them to interact with others, access basic food and medical care, and become stable enough to move into more permanent or interim housing.
Wendy Pedersen, of the Carnegie Community Action Project, works on housing, income, and land-use issues in the Downtown Eastside. She argued that shelters only act as a Band-Aid solution to eliminating homelessness. And while more supportive housing is ideal for those fighting drug addictions or mental-health issues, what people who are living in poverty really need is adequate social housing – lots of it.
"I disagree with their low-ball numbers," she said, referring to the additional 1,950 units of social and supportive housing proposed in the three-year plan. "Just from my Downtown Eastside resident perspective, we alone need 1,000 social housing units because SRO hotel rents are increasing or [the hotels]are being converted into higher-income rentals."
Suzanne Anton, mayoral candidate for the Non-Partisan Association, said the plan does not take into account changes that may occur to Vancouver's homeless population in the next three years.
"If nobody else moves to Vancouver and the homeless population is exactly who's here right now, then it's a finite problem and we have a finite solution," she said. "But in fact, is that the case? Will nobody else ever come to Vancouver?"
The Metro Vancouver Homeless Count indicates that there has been no increase in the number of homeless people living in the region between 2008 and 2011. Alice Sundberg, of the Metro Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, said the proposed three-year plan may seem "preposterous," but not impossible.
"We would also need to have a prevention strategy [and]outreach," she said. "It's not like there's a static number of people who are homeless, because the system creates more homeless people. So yes, you provide more [housing] But you also do things like the city of Surrey's rent bank, [which offers short-term funding and]has prevented people from being evicted from rental situations so they won't necessarily become homeless."
The report is being submitted to city council for approval on July 26.