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Homeless numbers stabilize in Metro after housing push

New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright is chair of Metro Vancouver
New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright is chair of Metro Vancouver's Housing Committee.
— image credit: Jeff Nagel / Black Press

The number of homeless people in Metro Vancouver rose five per cent over the past three years, a relatively small change that has prompted advocates to declare the problem stabilized.

Preliminary results of the 2014 Metro Vancouver homeless count on March 12 were released Wednesday, showing an overall count of 2,770 homeless in the region, up from 2,650 in 2011.

The number of street homeless not found in shelters climbed 26 per cent to 957, although most of that increase was in the City of Vancouver, where the street homeless count more than tripled to 538.

Almost all other parts of Metro Vancouver saw decreases of street homeless – Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby and Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows all saw declines of 35 to 40 per cent.

The number of sheltered homeless – counted in shelters, jails, hospitals, transition houses and detox centres – was down four per cent.

"We've achieved some stability," said Deb Bryant, chair of the Greater Vancouver Steering Committee on Homelessness. "We have stemmed the tide of really rapid growth in homelessness."

She said the count reflects a minimum number of homeless because not all of those on the street or in shelters can be physically counted. A final report is set for release in July.

It's the fifth 24-hour snapshot of homelessnness since the three-year surveys began in 2002.

Aboriginal people continue to be over-represented, making up 582 of the homeless counted, or 31 per cent,

Four per cent or 90 of the homeless counted were seniors over age 65.

More than 400 youth were counted as homeless – 63 per cent of them in Vancouver and 13 per cent in Surrey – a number Bryant called troublingly high.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said lower funding for shelter spaces and "renovictions" by some landlords may have driven up the number of street homeless in his city.

And while he said there's cause for optimism – several hundred new units of social housing set to open in Vancouver later this year – more investment plans must be laid for the future.

Robertson and New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright said the region needs senior government aid, particularly for the mentally ill and addicted who are considered hardest to house.

"We've come a long way but there's another leap that needs to be made," Robertson said.

Wright said he almost never hears from his residents about homelessness in New Westminster now, adding he believes Vancouver's downtown lifestyle has become "a magnet" for at risk people, who may be gravitating there from other parts of the region.

Both he and Robertson credited the provincial government for working with municipalities to build new shelters and social housing, along with other assistance.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman said he believes homelessness is now in decline in the Lower Mainland, in part through partnerships in which cities provide land and the province gives money to build new housing units.

He said the province spent $600 million in Vancouver alone since it launched its housing strategy in 2006, adding more than 2,800 units and resulting in a "remarkable" improvement in the Downtown Eastside.

"We've actually made some significant strides because we've been prepared to be innovative and do diifferent things," Coleman said.

One of the changes Coleman brouught in was a new rental subsidy program for low-income families.

"There are 10,000 families on rental assistance in B.C. now. That's 10,000 units of housing we didn't have to build because we helped them in the marketplace."

Coleman said the province has also expanded its rental subsidy program for low income seniors, which now supports more than 16,000.

TOTAL HOMELESS
(including street and sheltered)

- Vancouver: 1,798 (up from 1,581 in 2011)
- Surrey: 403 (up from 400)
- North Shore: 119 (down from 122)
- New Westminster: 104 (down from 132)
- Langley: 92 (down from 103)
- Maple Ridge: 84 (down from 110)
- Tri-Cities: 55 (up from 48)
- Burnaby: 58 (down from 78)
- Richmond: 38 (down from 49)
- Delta/White Rock: 19 (up from 14)

 

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