Sitting warm in my home over the Remembrance Day weekend – with November living up to its reputation for wind and driving rain – I couldn’t help but think of those in our community living on the streets. Especially after it was recently revealed that there are more homeless on the North Shore than estimates have led many of us to believe.
This spring, Metro Vancouver’s annual one-day “homeless count” tallied just 100 people on the North Shore without proper shelter – a number most on the front lines felt grossly underestimated the severity of the problem.
A report released this fall by the North Shore Homelessness Task Force tried a different methodology.
Comprised of six major providers of homelessness services on the North Shore, the Task Force tallied up the number of people who accessed services for the homeless on the North Shore in 2016 – 736 “absolutely homeless” with another 295 at “imminent risk” of homelessness.
The Task Force’s definitions of those terms bring the reality into stark focus:
“Absolutely homeless includes those living on the streets or in places not intended for human habitation, those staying in homeless shelters (including safe houses and women’s shelters) and those whose accommodation is temporary and lacks security of tenure (i.e. couch surfing, hospitals, detox facilities).”
“At Risk refers to those who are not homeless, but whose current economic and/or housing situation is precarious or does not meet public health and safety standards.”
Given North Vancouver’s increasing rents and decreasing vacancies, even these numbers are thought to be conservative estimates – plus, they don’t include anyone who registered for services in previous years but are still living without safe, secure and adequate housing.
MOST VULNERABLE AFFECTED
More disturbing than the overall numbers is the breakdown of the most vulnerable categories:
Homeless seniors (over 55): 178
Homeless youth (under 24): 103
Children with homeless or at-risk parents: 143
Slightly over half of the 200 women at risk of homelessness reported being victims of domestic violence.
The gap between the need and existing homeless services on the North Shore is staggering: 18 beds for women and children, 4 beds for youth, 45 beds for adults – totaling 67.
Last month, to its credit, District of North Vancouver Council responded to the Task Force report by asking staff to prepare a business case for the creation of a Family Shelter and Supported Housing project in the District and to explore potential locations on a District-owned site.
Putting up land for affordable housing and incenting developers to build more are key actions North Vancouver’s municipalities can take. But it goes without saying that action, collaboration and political resolve are required of all three levels of government.
RE-ESTABLISHING FEDERAL HOUSING ROLE
In the next few weeks, our federal government will roll out a National Housing Strategy – the first such strategy ever in Canada and one which will re-establish the federal role in housing and introduce key tools to fill critical gaps, respond to imbalances in housing markets and spur innovation.
And there’s money on the table to work on this with municipalities, provinces and community service providers. The single largest commitment in Budget 2017 was to housing, with planned investments of $11.2 billion over 10 years.
It will not be a “cookie cutter” approach – there’s recognition that community housing issues require community solutions.
One of my roles as your Member of Parliament is to be a persuasive and effective advocate for access to federal funding and to facilitate collaboration, innovation and political commitment.
I believe there’s currently a political climate at all levels of government – finally – to make a significant and lasting impact on affordable housing issues. Let’s seize this moment.