Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ordering a DVD Copy of 'The Way Home'

There have been some queries as to how people can get a copy of the new work in progress documentary film 'The Way Home.'

If you or your organisation are interested in purchasing a copy of 'The Way Home' please click on the above image and print the document. All monies raised through DVD sales will go directly to the filmmakers.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Penticton Screening

Our screening of "The Way Home" in Penticton took place on Wednesday evening, December 3rd.

A big issue that was discussed after the film was the "Not in My Backyard" syndrome. People were concerned that when social housing, supportive housing or transitional housing come to a neighbourhood, there is often a negative reaction from some in the community. There was consensus that everyone shoould speak out to support these facilitities. Community leaders (especially elected officials) have a special responsibility to be courageous and respectfully oppose those who fear these important initiatives.

We pointed out that the choice is not between social housing in your neighbourhood on the one hand and stability on the other. Rather, the choice is between providing homes for those who need them (and the support for them to be succesful in those homes) or the instability and inhumanity of homelessness that affects every community in the province. Homelessness will not disappear from our neighbourhoods if we ignore it and simply wish it away.

Other issues brought up were the challenge people (especially seniors,) have getting support from the Ministry of Employment and Income Assisitance, and the problems faced by those living in manufactured homes as landlords raise rents and sell off land for development.

The next leg of the tour will be in late January. Watch this blog for our schedule.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Homeless Film Tour Begins in Kamloops and Kelowna

The first leg of 'The Way Home' film tour has begun this week in Kamloops and Kelowna. People have been very moved by the movie. The issues examined have resonated with everyone who attended. Many have commented that the film is depressing but an accurate and realistic portrayal of the struggles of homeless people in BC today.

In Kamloops, a young woman who was a student talked about her feelings of guilt. She worries that because she lives on a limited income and resides in a low rent apartment, people who have less money than she has can't find a place to live. And she worries that this is a pattern across the province.

A young man who had experienced homelessness thought the film was a realistic portrayal of living on the street.

One man expressed the opinion that municipalities should have the responsiblity and power to create social housing because they are closeset to and understand the problems the best. We agreed but suggested that when senior govermnents provide resources to municipalities there should be a set of principles they must follow in the delivery of housing and services -- the Canada Health Act model.

In Kelowna, reaction was similar. People are looking forward to the opening of a new building in which the Willow project will provide transitional services.

An aboriginal woman spoke movingly and thoughtfully about the reality that aboriginal people are much more likely to be homeless. She expressed her outrage that despite the fact that aboriginal title has not been ceded in most of BC and therefore aboriginal people are potentially wealthy, they still suffer more than the broader population.

There was an excellent discussion, and consensus, that mental health services should be community based. People strongly agree that mental health issues are best dealt with the support of family, community and services providers working together.

In both towns people asked again and again what they could do to help end the crisis of homelessness in BC. We recommend that they demand of federal, provincial and municipal governments that they treat the homelessness crisis as a priority. We also suggested that they work with the Community Advocates for Little Mountain (CALM) who organise 'Stands For Housing' (Saturday afternoon demonstrations to end homelessness on street corners across the province.) Their contact information is

More than 65 people attended the screening in Kamloops and more than 75 in Kelowna.

Tonight we screen the film in Penticton at the Okanagan College Lecture Theatre at 7pm. We hope to see you there.

Monday, December 1, 2008

New Film on Homelessness in BC- The Way Home

Dear Friend,

Today, between 10,000 and 15,000 British Columbians are homeless. They are our neighbours, our sisters and brothers, our sons and daughters.

Last year I traveled to 22 towns and cities across BC and spoke with hundreds of homeless people, service providers and local government officials. Two young film makers, Kevin Fitzgerald and Louvens Remy, followed the tour and did hundreds of hours of additional filming. The result, “The Way Home,” is a moving, thoughtful and informative film. We promised then to return to each of the towns we filmed in to show the movie, we are keeping that commitment.

British Columbians are caring and decent. We want to work together to end homelessness. This film showing is a chance for us to learn more about homelessness, and to speak with one another about what we can do to make our province a better place for every British Columbian.

I look forward to seeing you there.

David Chudnovsky
MLA Vancouver-Kensington

December 1st: Kamloops- 7pm Henry Grube Centre, 245 Kitchener
December 2nd: Kelowna- 7pm, Habitat 248 Leon Ave
December 3rd: Penticton- 7pm, Okanagan College, Lecture Theatre, 583 Duncan Ave.

Please check back for detailed reports on each of these movie screenings.

Carole James Introduces Homelessness Crisis Bill

Carole James, Leader of the Opposition, introduced a bill to deal with British Columbia's homelessness crisis on November 27th in the Legislature. The full text of the bill follows:

HER MAJESTY, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of British Columbia,
enacts as follows:
1 “Minister” means the Minister of Forests and Range
“the plan” means the five-year plan referred to in section 1
Establishment of a five-year plan for the elimination of homelessness
2 (1) The Minister must establish a comprehensive five-year plan to resolve the crisis of homelessness in British
(2) The plan must have annual targets and timelines for the reduction of the number of homeless people in British Columbia.
(3) The plan must address the problem of homelessness both in rural and urban areas of British Columbia.
(4) The Auditor General must review annually the targets, timelines, and results of the Minister’s plan, and report his or her findings to the Legislative Assembly.
Coming into force
3 This Act comes into force on the date of Royal Assent

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Finding Our Way Home -- Recommendations

This is the sixth in a series of excerpts from the report on homelessness in BC, "Finding Our Way Home" prepared by David Chudnovsky, Opposition Critic for Homelessness in the Legislature. Today's portion lays out the twelve key recommendations of the report. The complete report can be read at

1) Re-establish the Ministry of Housing
Housing and homelessness are currently addressed by the Ministry of Forests and Range. In order to deal effectively with this crisis and to ensure the necessary coordination, setting of standards and accountability, the focus and resources of a stand-alone ministry and a dedicated minister are required.

2) Eliminate the homeless crisis in 5 years
The Homelessness Act 2008, which will be introduced by MLA David Chudnovsky in the fall session of the legislature, commits government to a plan to eliminate the crisis within 5 years. The plan must address problems in both rural and urban areas, and require the minister to establish annual targets and timelines for the reduction of homelessness. It will also mandate the Auditor General to report yearly on progress.

There are precedents from all over North America where it has been recognized that a concrete plan and goal to end homelessness are required to really make it happen. Today more than 300 US communities have committed themselves to plans as part of a nationwide effort to end homelessness in the United States.

It is, perhaps, important to comment briefly about the so-called “Portland Model”. We have much to learn from Portland, especially their commitment to “Housing First.” That city reduced homelessness by 70% in the first 18 months of their plan.
However, the situation in Portland (and many American cities which have begun to deal with homelessness) is significantly different from ours in at least one significant aspect. Portland had the ‘advantage’ of a healthy vacancy rate and therefore the availability of rooms and apartments into which homeless people could be placed. BC is not in the same situation. Low vacancy rates are a problem in almost every city and town in the province.

3) Re-invest in a social housing program
Key to eliminating the homelessness crisis is re-investment in a social housing program. At a minimum, a commitment to 2400 units immediately, plus 1200 annually is required.

The $250 million currently in the B.C. Housing Endowment Fund should be reallocated as an emergency infusion of funds towards these units.

In addition, innovative partnerships must be utilized to further expand the number of units. An end to the homeless crisis requires commitment and participation from all 3 levels of government, the private sector, non-profit organizations and other community institutions and organizations. The more partners willing to participate in the strategy, the more housing units can be built and more supports for success can be put in place.

A result of the dramatic shortage of homes is the development of serious bottlenecks in the shelter/housing that is available. For instance, emergency shelter staff report that people are staying much longer in their facilities than they had in the past, and staff are often ignoring the guidelines and allowing people to stay longer than the period to which they are entitled. As well, homeless people are often moving from one emergency shelter to another rather than finding permanent homes.
Similarly, there are reports from a number of service providers who administer transitional housing that clients are staying longer than they are supposed to because there is simply no place for them to go.

4) Support local governments and community organizations
Local government is a key partner in the battle to end homelessness. More needs to be done to facilitate and encourage local government to work with housing and community organizations and neighbourhoods. Many small and medium sized communities do not have the internal capacity to respond to homelessness. The establishment of a Small Communities Fund would provide resources to assist in the development of housing and other solutions.

Community Charter tools like inclusionary zoning, which require a percentage of affordable/social housing in developments over a certain size to facilitate
a mix of housing, need to be enhanced.

The Vancouver Social Housing Amendment Act, 2008 was introduced by MLA Jenny Kwan. This bill amends the Vancouver Charter to allow for increased density as compensation for the creation of social housing. These tools can be used to create units for people who are hard to house, as well as families with children,
seniors and individuals.

5) Focus on the whole province
Many think homelessness is a Lower Mainland problem or even simply a downtown eastside problem. The crisis exists in almost every city and town across BC. The government must focus on solutions for the whole province.

6) Expand social housing on existing sites
Existing social housing sites offer a valuable opportunity to increase the stock of social housing. When redevelopment takes place, a minimum of two for one replacement of existing units where the site and zoning allow it.

7) Include four key elements in social housing and support programs
In order to effectivively address the homelessness crisis, the following principles must be incorporated into any social housing and support programs:
• “Housing First plus the supports necessary for suc-
cess” including low barrier programs to meet
people where they are. A theme of the consulta-
tion was serious lack of, and the need for many
more “damp,” or “wet” services for people who are
homeless. This is a component part of the “Hous-
ing First” approach, which insists that people do
not have to “clean themselves up” before they
are entitled to a place to live. However these kinds
of facilities (whether emergency shelters, transi-
tion housing etc.) are extremely hard to find and
the ones that do exist are overburdened and un-
der resourced.

Specific targeted programs are needed to meet
the needs of people coming out of jail who are
discharged to shelters, children in care transition
ing to adulthood, people coming out of hospitals
with nowhere to go and first nations people;

• Homelessness prevention including support for
third party rentals by organizations so people with
out references/experience renting can get housing;
a program that provides support for small
landlords who house people who are hard to
house; and emergency support for tenants to keep
their housing;

• Adequate infrastructure including the provision of
adequate staffing resources for organizations pro-
viding housing for the hard to house;

• Accountability to ensure that programs meet targets
and standards.

8) Maintain and expand the public land bank
Social housing and the land it sits on is a legacy for our province which should not be sold off. If government chooses to derive additional income from this land then it should be leased, not sold.

To reduce the cost of public social housing, federal, provincial and municipally owned land should be utilized. In addition, SRO sites in communities like the Downtown Eastside can be used as land for social housing.

9) Protect manufactured home tenants
The Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Amendment Act 2008 introduced by New Democrat MLA Harry Bains strengthens the rights and security of tenure for tenants living in manufactured home parks. This is essential to preventing displacement and increased homelessness.

10) Strengthen security of tenure and rights for tenants
The Residential Tenancy Act Amendment Act 2008 introduced by New Democrat Opposition MLA Diane Thorne provides more protection for tenants facing eviction and provides new rights for tenants to move back into their homes after renovations at reasonable rents. A second Residential Tenancy Act Amendment Act 2008 introduced by New Democrat Opposition MLA Jenny Kwan institutes a rent freeze on single room accommodations for a three-year period to ensure rents do not skyrocket during the 2010 Olympics. Both of these initiatives are key to preventing increased homelessness.

Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance policy allows security deposits to be provided to clients only twice. In rare circumstances a third deposit is provided. This does not make sense. The consequence of the policy is that people are prevented
from accessing an apartment or room simply because they do not have the “up front” money for a security deposit.

The Ministry argues that once someone has lost a damage deposit twice it is inappropriate to provide a third one. But this ignores a number of factors. Many people are unaware that they are entitled to have their deposit returned when they leave a rental. Some landlords cheat and choose not to return the deposit even when the renter is entitled to it. For people in marginalized situations a dispute over a security deposit and engagement with the residential tenancy branch is a forbidding and difficult process.

11) Increase income assistance rates and the minimum wage
Inadequate income levels must be increased if British Columbians are to be able to afford housing and the barriers to getting on and staying on income assistance need to be addressed.

12) Increase mental health and addiction services
Homelessness is linked to many other social determinants such as poverty, mental health and addiction. In addition to the recommendations above, increasing mental health and addiction services is essential to effectively addressing homelessness.

A significant problem is the lack of mental health and addictions programs in the regions. Services in Vancouver are inadequate, but the situation outside of the Lower Mainland is even worse. One of the results is that people who need support and treatment flock to Vancouver, and often to the downtown eastside, because there is at least a chance they will get much needed services.

This places an added burden on already dramatically overburdened service providers in Vancouver while it removes fragile people from their own communities where they may have useful family and social supports.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Campbell Government Response

This is the fifth in a series of excerpts from the report on homelessness in BC, "Finding Our Way Home" prepared by David Chudnovsky, Opposition Critic for Homelessness in the Legislature. The complete report can be read at

The Campbell Liberal Government has focused much of its effort regarding homelessness on a series of strategies which, while in some cases laudable, do little to reduce the numbers of people without a place to live.

The Ministry, through BC Housing, has expanded the number of “outreach workers” whose responsibility is to make contact with homeless people (often at street level), connect them with various programs and services, attempt to find housing, and sometimes to provide minimal ongoing support. These workers are enormously committed and do excellent work. But even the best and most committed outreach worker cannot house someone if a home is not available.

A second element of the Campbell government’s strategy is the purchase of low-rent hotels (SROs), mostly in Vancouver but also in a couple of other centres.
This too is a good idea, as it protects some small part of the existing stock of low-rent units. But this strategy does absolutely nothing to deal with the 10,000 – 15,000 people who are currently homeless because it simply protects what already exists. People live in those SROs already. Protecting an existing stock is helpful, but it doesn’t help solve the crisis of homelessness in the province.

A third part of the government’s strategy is increasing emergency shelter beds and expanding the hours during which they are open. People use emergency shelters as temporary places to stay when they have nowhere else to live.

Creating emergency shelter beds is necessary. We face a homelessness emergency. But are shelter beds homes? No. Is this a strategy for solving homelessness? Absolutely not.

An additional problem is that the government inappropriately includes emergency shelter beds in their count of housing units they have built since 2001.

Another part of the Campbell government strategy on homelessness is to increase the number of rent subsidies. Rent subsidies are a useful tool in dealing with homelessness problems in some circumstances as long as there is a stock of vacant rental units available. But in the context of a hot real estate market, where there is a 0.1 percent or 0.5 percent or a 1 percent vacancy rate, rent supplements are simply a gift to landlords. The province provides the rent subsidies, and the landlords, because of the high demand, raise the rents.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why We Should End Homelessness

This is the fourth in a series of excerpts from the report on homelessness in BC, "Finding Our Way Home" prepared by David Chudnovsky, Opposition Critic for Homelessness in the Legislature. The complete report can be read at

It might seem unnecessary to ask why it is important to deal with the crisis of homelessness in BC. However, significant government commitment and resources are required, and governing is always about making choices. Therefore, the rationales for action are important.

The most important reason to solve the crisis is that it is the right thing to do. People in our province deserve a place to live and we have the resources to make that possible. British Columbians are caring and decent people and believe that everyone is entitled to a home.

Second, homelessness is both a disruption to the lives of those who have nowhere to live and to the stability of our communities. Most British Columbians are ashamed and embarrassed that we face such a crisis. They are rightly uncomfortable when they see people sleeping on the streets or lining up for emergency shelters.

But solutions are not without controversy. Mark Twain wrote, “Everybody is in favour of progress. It’s change they don’t like.” While public opinion increasingly demands solutions to the homelessness crisis, the shrill voices of those who want the solution anywhere but in their own backyards are heard every time a new project is announced.

The leaders of our community, and in particular governmental leaders at the federal, provincial and municipal levels must be proactive in reminding everyone that solutions involve change – and in supporting that change even if it has short-term political consequences. The alternative is the status quo – the warehousing of the poor and marginalized in out-of-the-way neighbourhoods. That strategy is not only inequitable, experience shows it is also unsuccessful.

Finally, providing homes and support for those who are homeless is significantly cheaper than continuing to do what we have been doing. We expend enormous resources on ambulance service, emergency ward treatment, acute care beds, police officers, court trials and hearings, prisons, emergency shelters and much more, when housing and supports are more appropriate and more cost effective measures.

The Vancouver Police Department report ‘Lost in Transition’, describes both the crisis in the provision of street level mental health services and treatment, and just some of the increased costs that result.

“A conservative economic analysis suggests that police time spent dealing with incidents where a person’s mental illness was a contributing factor in police attendance is equivalent to 90 full-time police officers, at an annual cost of $9 million. This would not include indirect policing costs, or the costs to other agencies such as the ambulance service, hospitals, or the court system … The key finding of this research is that there is a profound lack of capacity in mental health resources in Vancouver. The result is an alarmingly high number of calls for police service to incidents that involve mentally ill people in crisis. VPD officers, along with the citizens with whom they come in contact, are bearing the burden of a mental health system that lacks resources and efficient information sharing practices, often with tragic consequences. In an effort to address the current situation, several recommendations are made that centre on the need to better serve people who are mentally ill in Vancouver” (Vancouver Police Department, ‘Lost in Transition’)

The Simon Fraser University Report, ‘Housing and Support for Adults with Severe Addictions and/or Mental Illness in British Columbia’, concludes that $18,000 per year can be saved per person with provi¬sion of adequate housing and supports.

“… the average street homeless adult with SAMI in BC costs the public system in excess of $55,000 per year. Provision of adequate housing and supports is estimated to reduce this cost to $37,000 per year. This results in an overall ‘cost avoidance’ of about $211 million per year. The ‘cost avoidance’ in health care and provincial corrections institution costs are more than sufficient to offset the capital costs and the costs of providing housing supports to those who are absolutely homeless.”
(Housing and Support for Adults with Severe Addictions and/or Mental Illness in British Columbia)

Tim Richter, President & CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation makes an even more dramatic calculation. He reports that in Calgary at least $323 million was spent in 2007 which equals $134,000 per chronically homeless person per year.
Using the more conservative Simon Fraser calculation (a savings of $18,000 per year per homeless person) and their relatively conservative number of 11,500 homeless people, British Columbia could save more than $1 billion over five years by housing the homeless.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Homelessness Crisis In BC - Why Now?

This is the third in a series of excerpts from the report on homelessness in BC, "Finding Our Way Home" prepared by David Chudnovsky, Opposition Critic for Homelessness in the Legislature. The complete report can be read at

There are many reasons why homelessness has reached the staggering level it has in British Columbia. The federal government must take its share of the blame. In 1994 the federal housing program was cancelled. It provided tens of thousands of high quality social housing and co-op housing units.

By 2001, British Columbia was one of only two provinces in the country with a provincial social housing program. But the Gordon Campbell Liberal government cancelled that program in 2002. If it had simply continued, there would be at least 4,000 additional low-rent units of housing in British Columbia.

Income is an important variable in providing the possibility for affordable housing. But it’s clear that incomes have lagged dramatically behind the cost of housing. 250,000 employed British Columbians make $10 an hour or less. It’s virtually impossible at such a wage level to find adequate and affordable housing.

The administration at Kelowna’s Mission Gospel emergency shelter reported that 30% of people who use the shelter get up in the morning and go to work. This has been confirmed in other emergency shelters, soup kitchens and food banks across the province.

Those on income assistance have an even bigger challenge in finding affordable housing. The $375 per month shelter allowance for single people is totally inadequate. It forces people to supplement their rents with money that should be going to food, clothing, transportation and other purposes. The Campbell Liberals created barriers (such as the 3 week wait, 2 year independence test, etc.) which make it much harder to get on income assistance and stay on income assistance.

A recent report of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives which followed welfare recipients in BC since 2004 found that 100% of those studied who were forced to leave welfare became homeless.

The de-institutionalization of people with mental health problems has also contributed to homelessness. Without adequate community-based mental health services many people become vulnerable to homelessness, and to many other challenges – drugs and drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse, intimidation etc.

The recent report of the Vancouver Police Department calls attention to the woeful lack of health services for this population and subsequently the inappropriate and wasteful use of police services to deal with health issues.

Another extremely significant factor which has led to the current crisis of homelessness is the cruel irony that with the dramatic rise in the value of real property there has been a dramatic increase in homelessness. When the cost of buying homes at the top of the market increases, the demand, and therefore the price of housing in the cheapest part of the market increases too.

This is the case, it is worth noting, not just in the Lower Mainland but in communities across the province. So while some British Columbians have become wealthy because the value of their homes have appreciated, many of their neighbours have become homeless as part of the same phenomenon.

The lesson here is that the market alone will not and cannot resolve the current crisis of homelessness in the province.

Also adding pressure to the stock of affordable housing, is the drive to re-develop manufactured home parks, especially in smaller centres across the province. Decades ago, when many of these parks were established, they were often at the outskirts of towns and cities. With the passage of time and the expansion of municipalities, they are now closer to the centre and the land on which they sit has increased in value. As many of these parks are closed and developed they contribute to the problem. A great number of the manufactured homes cannot be moved and their owners are at grave risk of becoming homeless.

Because of the critical shortage of low-cost rental accommodation, landlords are in a position to pick and choose tenants. One phenomenon which has been reported is landlords not only doing credit checks on potential tenants, but criminal record checks as well. Obviously, someone who has been homeless for any length of time has little hope of getting past these obstacles.

“10,500 people are homeless in British Columbia. That’s the population of Williams Lake. If tomorrow the people of Williams Lake had a catastrophe, if there was a flood or a fire and every one of them lost their homes, we as a people, as British Columbians who are caring and decent people, would get together and find homes for those people. We’d build homes for those people. We’d solve their problem. And we’d do it quickly. Today in British Columbia that’s the crisis we have. More people than the population of Williams Lake are homeless today in British Columbia. It’s time for government to take it seriously, to roll up their sleeves and to find a solution for those people.”
- David Chudnovsky

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Strategic Vision to End Homelessness in BC

This is the second in a series of excerpts from the report on homelessness in BC, "Finding Our Way Home" prepared by David Chudnovsky, Opposition Critic for Homelessness in the Legislature. The complete report can be read at

“I think that we as citizens in a society are all responsible for each other. So as long as there’s homelessness, we are responsible to find a solution. And, the government actually represents us, so please start listening to us. We want solutions, and to be part of the solution.” (Loretta, Nelson Mental Health Clubhouse)

In the United States the slogan “Housing First” has gained traction and in many places informs policy. It is a useful concept, as it implies two fundamental principles. First is the notion that having a home is a right. Second, is the idea that housing needs to be provided immediately, independent of the causes of the homelessness or the health of the homeless person.

Even so, “Housing First” is an inadequate response to the crisis of homelessness in BC as it does not provide the resources needed for success. A more comprehensive strategy is necessary:


For many homeless people simply providing a home will solve the problem. For thousands of others a home is necessary but not sufficient. The Simon Fraser study indicates that more than 10,000 homeless people in BC have either a mental health or addiction problem or both. It is these British Columbians, whose health care challenges contribute to their homelessness, who need ongoing supports to be successful.

Senator Michael Kirby’s important work on mental health at the federal level is instructive and persuasive. He is adamant that a “sequential” approach does not work. It doesn’t make sense to say to a homeless person, “Get yourself cleaned up, stop your substance abuse and then we will find you someplace to live.”

Similarly, it is a recipe for failure to house homeless people with mental health and addictions issues and not provide the necessary supports for them immediately when they are housed.

It is often said in explanation of the current crisis that mental health and addiction problems are complicated. That is, of course, the case. But so are cancer and pneumonia complicated. Nevertheless, as a community we provide comprehensive and ongoing care for cancer and pneumonia sufferers.

The situation is dramatically different for those dealing with mental health and addictions challenges. The recent Vancouver Police Department report on mental health problems and their impact on policing clearly indicates a lack of treatment and support which has reached crisis proportions. The problem is not complexity. Rather, it is the stigma and discrimination faced by people with these illnesses. Too often moral and subjective judgments about “personal responsibility” get in the way of a commitment to health care for all.

In this context it is instructive to note Mr. Justice Pitfield’s finding in the recent Insite case.

“While there is nothing to be said in favour of the injection of controlled substances that leads to addiction, there is much to be said against denying addicts health care services that will ameliorate the effects of their condition. Society does that for other substances such as alcohol and tobacco... Management of the harm in those cases is accepted as a community responsibility. I cannot see any rational or logical reason why the approach should be different when dealing with the addiction to narcotics….”

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is a unique and important part of the story of homelessness in British Columbia. For decades it has been a mostly successful low income community. When social housing and co-op housing were being funded by the federal and provincial governments many buildings were erected which today form part of a close-knit and dynamic neighbourhood.

This reality is being threatened, on the one hand by rampant speculation, renovation and development of extremely expensive condominiums, and on the other hand – and partially as a result of high-end development – by an explosion of homelessness, addiction and mental health problems.

Future development on the downtown eastside must start with the stabilization of existing low cost housing, the building of needed social housing, and a commitment to the existing neighbourhood, its resilience, history, culture and values.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Homelessness Report -- First Installment

Today we begin posting excerpts from David Chudnovsky's Homelessness Report -- completed after a tour of 22 communities across BC and extensive discussions with homeless people, service providers and local government officials. The complete report can be found at

Executive Summary

Not since the great depression almost 80 years ago has British Columbia had a homelessness crisis like the one we face today. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people across our province are homeless.

While many think of homelessness as a Lower Mainland problem, it is clear that the crisis faces virtually every town and city across BC. From Cranbrook to Comox, Hazelton to Kitsilano, Abbotsford to Penticton, Surrey to Smithers, Victoria and Vancouver’s downtown eastside – people are living on the streets, couch surfing, surviving temporarily in emergency shelters and transition housing.

In the 1990s the federal government abandoned its traditional role in funding social housing, along with the provinces. Despite this, the British Columbia New Democrat government was one of only two provinces in Canada to maintain a social housing program. This program was one of the first cut by Gordon Campbell’s Liberals when they came to power. Six short years later homelessness is a provincial emergency that needs immediate action.

There are three fundamental reasons to end homelessness in BC. The most important reason to solve the crisis is that it is the right thing to do. People in our province deserve a place to live and we have the resources to make that possible.

Second, homelessness disrupts both the lives of those who have nowhere to live and the stability of our communities. Most British Columbians are ashamed and embarrassed that we face such a crisis. They are rightly uncomfortable when they see people sleeping on the streets or lining up for emergency shelters.

Third, providing homes and support for those who are homeless is significantly cheaper than continuing to do what we have been doing. The Simon Fraser University Report, ‘Housing and Support for Adults with Severe Addictions and/or Mental Illness in British Columbia, prepared with the active participation of several provincial government ministries (including the Housing Policy Branch under Minister Coleman) concludes that $18,000 per year can be saved per person with provision of adequate housing and supports.

Others have made even more dramatic calculations. Tim Richter, President & CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation reports that in Calgary at least $323 million was spent in 2007 which equals $134,000 per chronically homeless person per year.

Using the more conservative Simon Fraser calculation (a savings of $18,000 per year per homeless person) and their relatively conservative number of 11,500 homeless people, British Columbia could save more than $1 billion over five years by housing the homeless.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Update and Findings: The Way Home

Two important tools for helping to end the homelessness crisis in BC came out of the “Finding Our Way Home” tour.

First is a report on Homelessness written by David Chudnovsky which includes specific recommendations for dealing with the crisis in our province. We will post some excerpts from the report tomorrow. In the meantime you can link to the report in its entirety at

Second, more than 400 people saw the film “The Way Home” at its world premier in Woodland Park in Vancouver on June 20. Producers Kevin Fitzgerald and Louvens Remy have chronicled the story of homelessness in BC from the point of view of homeless people themselves and the impact of government policy.

David Chudnovsky will be returning to each of the towns and cities visited on the tour starting later this fall to present the movie. We’ll post the dates, times and locations on this blog.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

How About a Good News Story for a Change?

When our provincial consultation, "Finding Our Way Home" was in Kelowna in January we met a young man -- we'll call him Phil -- who was doing his best to deal with mental health/addiction issues and homelessness. He was staying at the Willows, a wonderful transition facility with a compassionate and committed staff. Phil was very interested in our work, was interviewed at length by the film makers who were travelling with us and even accompanied us at our meeting with the mayor.

A couple of months later we were in Prince George and bumped into Phil. It was great to see him, even though he didn't look as healthy as he had when we'd first met him. Once again we chatted, and once again he was interviewed for the film.

Then this week we were back in touch with a staff person from the Willows who told us Phil had phoned her after meeting up with us the second time in Prince George. He said that meeting had motivated him to get into detox, that he was now in transition housing and was doing well.

Congratulations to Phil for his strength and perseverance and to all of the wonderful people we met on our travels who face such enormous challenges every day and find a way to survive and flourish.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Homelessness Petition to be Submitted to Legislature

Many of you have signed our petition -- which can be found in the column at the right hand side of this page you are reading. Just scroll down a bit and you'll find the link.

If you haven't yet signed, please consider doing so in the next couple of days. During the week of May 26-29 David Chudnovsky will be submitting the petition in the legislature. If you have hard copies of the petition, please get them to David as soon as possible. They can be couriered to Room 201, Parliament Buildings, Victoria BC, V8V 1X4.

Thanks for your support.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Debate in the Legislature on Homelessness -- May 7

The following are excerpts from the estimates debate in the legislature on May 7, between David Chudnovsky, Opposition Critic for Homelessnes and Rich Coleman, Minister responsible for Homelessness:

D. Chudnovsky: How many homeless people are there in B.C.?

Hon. R. Coleman: It's not a quantifiable number. With our homeless counts that we do in communities in Metro Vancouver, Vancouver, greater Victoria…. It's about 4,500 in the major population of British Columbia. If you extracted those numbers out you might be up to 7,000 to 8,000 people, depending on which count you were taking. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

The reality is that there is no quantifiable number that is available. There have been different speculations by different reports without any actually quantified backup either, where the numbers range. So it's not possible to give you a definitive number. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

We do know what the count was in Vancouver. We do know what the count was in the Fraser Valley. We do know what the count is in Victoria. If you look at those population bases and you extract it across the population of B.C., you can extract up to a number of maybe 6,000 plus. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: Well, I want to deal first with what the minister has just said. We seem to have housed 2,000 homeless people in the time it took the minister to answer the question. He started by saying to extract the Lower Mainland and Victoria numbers you'd get about 8,000, then he finished by saying 6,000. So — or extrapolate the numbers — you would get 8,000, and then he said 6,000. Which is it? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: Well, I did say over 6,000. Like I said, the number is not quantifiable.


D. Chudnovsky: The minister says that the number of homeless people in the province is not quantifiable. How does he respond, therefore, to the research done by the Simon Fraser group, which reported in October that, for the groups with severe addictions and mental health problems — just those groups — their work indicates between 8,000 and 15,500 homeless people in British Columbia. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Does the minister discount those figures? Does he think they're wrong? What's his view of those figures? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: Well, I'll tell you what my view is. They're wrong. Flat out, they're wrong. The official counts that we've done clearly show us that in all the communities across…. In most of the communities we've done it, we add them up, including Metro Vancouver, Victoria, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Smithers, Williams Lake, the Sunshine Coast, Saltspring Island and other areas across the province. The numbers are around 4,899, if that count is actually correct and there wasn't any duplication, which is also hard to quantify. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

I know that the member's website has the same numbers at 6,624, so he's out, by what the official count that was done was. He also has a larger number on the Lower Mainland, which is out by almost a thousand with regards to what the official count was. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

So I can't say that the Simon Fraser guys are that accurate when they say 8,000 to 15,500 is the number, which they're saying it is. It's a pretty big range. It tells me that they didn't actually do a count. But I know that we've done the count. We continue to do it with our community groups, and we'll continue to do that. What we're doing is trying to respond to the problem. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: Could the minister indicate for us what he thinks is wrong with the Simon Fraser methodology? What is wrong with the methodology of the Simon Fraser study? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: Clearly, the Simon Fraser study was done on informal interviews. That's pretty much wrong if you're going to put the number to something and try and say: "That's a social problem, and this is the number." I thought that was very weak research, quite frankly, especially when we do counts. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]


D. Chudnovsky: I want to probe a little bit further with the minister, who seems, today at least, to be confident about the counts that have been done by community organizations. The minister would agree with me — would he not? — that in every single case that the community organizations did counts, they indicated that their counts were conservative and that they think, based on their experience, that there are significantly more homeless people than the counts showed. Would the minister agree with me that that is what has happened with every single community count? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: First of all, I won't agree with the comment that in every single case…. There may have been some people that were doing the count that felt…. They may have had their individual opinions and comments. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

We do the count. We do it with volunteers. We do it with the best methodology we have. We try and improve that methodology for the next count, which we will do. Quite frankly, we have to work with the numbers we get, and it's the best measurement we have today out of all the processes we have. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: The minister will know — or I hope he will know — that, for instance, not individuals but the organizers of the Vancouver Metro count, both in their written material and in their presentation, which was made publicly for the media and the public at the time of the announcement of the count, said very, very clearly and warned everyone who was listening that their count was extremely conservative. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Similarly, the minister will know or should know that at the Fraser Valley count announcement, which was done several weeks ago, the organizers of the count — not some individual, not somebody's opinion, the organizers of the count, the very people who he says he has confidence in — said that they are completely convinced, based on their methodology [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

— and their methodology is based on the work of reputable social scientists, in both cases — that their numbers were a significant undercount and conservative. Is the minister aware of those things? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: Well, I'm aware that the member opposite is upset because he came up with a phony number, in his mind, and it didn't reflect in the count. It's been bothering him ever since, which is fine. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

We will go with the count. We believe that it's the best methodology we have today. If we can improve the methodology in the future, we'll do that. But certainly from the standpoint of whether the number is high or low, it depends on whether it's conservative or not. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Actually, I've talked to different organizations involved in the count, and some thought that there were a number of double counts done in some communities with regards to people who were counted more than once — people that were in a shelter and were also counted on the street. They had concerns about that. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

So that's always going to be a challenge with regards to the count. But, quite frankly, the numbers are the numbers we have from the counts, and those are the numbers that we work with. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: I'm, of course, not privileged to be with the minister when he speaks to people from various organizations who tell him what they tell him. I was, though, privileged to be at both the announcement of the Metro count and Fraser Valley count, and I was there to hear the organizers — not individuals, not individual organizations, but the very organizers that the minister, just a few minutes ago, said he had confidence in. I was there to hear them very, very clearly, in both cases, say that their counts were significantly undercounted, and they were conservative. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

So the minister can interpret that any way he wants to, but it seems to me that in the first ten minutes of estimates he's unfortunately insulted the researchers at Simon Fraser University and the organizers of the Metro and Fraser Valley counts. That's his privilege, and he gets to do that if he wants. Is it important to know how many homeless people there are in British Columbia? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: Certainly, it is important to know — have an idea of the numbers, hon. Member, because you build your programs around that. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: So why don't we know? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: The methodology that's used is used with volunteers. We go out, we fund these things, and we know the numbers as best we can by the methodology we use. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Can we improve the methodology in the future? That's a possibility, and that's what we're looking at now as we go forward. So we try and work with the non-profit sectors, etc. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Quite frankly, we take the count at the face value it is. It comes into the matrix of what we're looking at with regards to housing, and it certainly instructs us with some information that we find we can use as we're trying to build programs. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: Which counts did the ministry fund? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: We fund different ones from time to time. We also fund the organizations, frankly, who are clients of ours, who actually use their volunteers and their organizations as well. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

David Chudnovsky's Statement in the Legislature on the Provincial Stands for Housing

Each day in the legislature 6 members are permitted to make short, "non-political" speeches on community matters. Below is David Chudnovsky's statement on "Stands for Housing" delivered on Monday, May 5.


D. Chudnovsky: On Saturday in communities across the province, British Columbians met on street corners to hold more than 75 Stands for Housing. These non-partisan events were organized and supported by groups and individuals that reflect our province's incredible diversity — the Citywide Housing Coalition; Anglican, United, Unitarian and Lutheran churches; teachers associations; the Carnegie action project; Streams of Justice; the B.C. Federation of Labour and the CLC; the North Shore Shalom Seekers; Renters Voice; Faith in Action; the Vancouver and Victoria Labour Councils; Community Advocates for Little Mountain; and many more.

Perhaps most significantly, the students council at Woodlands Secondary School in Nanaimo sponsored and organized one of the stands.

Most counts put the homeless numbers in B.C. conservatively at more than 10,000. That's about the population of Williams Lake. If tomorrow there were a flood or fire in Williams Lake and everybody lost their homes, we as a province would do something about it and quickly. Because we are decent and caring, British Columbians would make sure that those people had somewhere to live.

That's what we face. We have a population in our province equal to or greater than the population of Williams Lake with nowhere to live. We as legislators have a special responsibility when it comes to homelessness. British Columbians expect that we will do everything in our power to resolve the crisis and quickly.

I ask everyone on both sides of the House, all 79 of us, to commit ourselves to ending homelessness in our province. I thank all of those who took part in the Stands for Housing, who called our attention to the crisis and reminded us of our responsibility to find solutions.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Great Article in the Vancouver Sun

Vancouver Sun, Page B01, 30-Apr-2008

Housing vigils grow across the province

By Neal Hall

The protests started with a group of neighbours taking a stand about losing their 224-unit Little Mountain social housing complex in Vancouver.

By March of this year, the demonstrations had grown to 15 "stands" on street corners.

Now the stands -- silent vigils to raise awareness of the twin problems of dwindling affordable housing and rising homelessness caused by the city's rocketing real estate prices -- have mushroomed into a movement that is spreading across B.C.

On Saturday, 80 "stands for housing" will be held in dozens of towns and cities across the province, including 40 in Metro Vancouver, 18 on Vancouver Island and 24 in the Interior and the northern region.

A stand consists of a one-hour silent demonstration on a street corner by neighbourhood housing activists on Saturdays, beginning at 1 p.m.

The first stand began last October with angry tenants who were being urged to move from the six-hectare social housing complex at Little Mountain, owned by B.C. Housing, because it was going to be sold and replaced with upscale condominiums.

The tenants began standing in protest each Saturday on the corner of Main and 33rd.

There are only 50 families left in the Little Mountain complex, leaving 170 units sitting empty, said Kia Salomons of Community Advocates for Little Mountain.

"That in itself is a scandal, with thousands of people homeless," she said of the vacant units. "Those homes are completely habitable. It's become a symbol of the problem of affordable housing."

The idea expanded last February as other groups of housing activists took the cause of "homes for all" and began donning identical turquoise-blue scarves and standing with banners on Vancouver street corners every Saturday.

"The big issue is, there isn't enough social housing," said Maggie Geiser, who takes part in a stand in her neighbourhood at Arbutus and King Edward with the Citywide Housing Coalition, one of the organizers. "We usually have a half a dozen to a dozen people on each corner."

Participants hand out flyers demanding politicians work together to reintroduce a national housing program to provide about 2,000 units of affordable rental housing in B.C each year to replace losses caused by redevelopment, speculation and gentrification.

They also want to see provincial welfare rates boosted to meet basic needs. A single person now receives a maximum of $375 a month for rent and $235 for everything else, while the average rent for a bachelor apartment is $735, the housing activists say.

The stands are non-partisan. Some are organized by such church groups as the Social Gospel Coordinating Group from St. James Anglican Church, the St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church Housing and Mental Health Action Group and the Unitarian Church Social Justice Committee, as well as a youth group called Random Acts of Kindness, which does a stand at First and Commercial on Saturdays.

The inspiration behind the stands was the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, whose children were among the thousands who "disappeared" under that country's military dictatorship in the 1970s and early '80s.

The mothers stood each week in a city square in Buenos Aires as a silent demand for justice. Their white scarves became an international symbol of protest.

Why do local stand participants wear turquoise-blue scarves?

"The fabric was on sale," Ann Truong said, laughing.

"We don't have a formal budget," added the University of B.C. student, who is studying social work and takes part in a stand with members of the Carnegie Community Action Project.

Project members recently surveyed Downtown Eastside residential hotels and concluded that 174 single-occupancy rooms have been closed in the last four months, with another 225 in grave danger of being lost.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Finding Our Way Home -- The Consultation Comes to an End

Dear Friends,

After visiting 22 BC commnunities, meeting with more than 120 service providers, not-for-profit groups and local governments, and speaking with hundreds of homeless people, our provincial consultation, "Finding Our Way Home", is complete.

I want to take this opportuntity to thank all of those who gave us their time, who reported to us on the siutation in their communities and who taught us so much about the issue of homelessness.

I especially want to pay tribute to all of our neighbours and friends -- homeless people in our province -- who shared their stories, their insights, their dreams for a better life and their thoughtful suggestions with us. It was a privilege to meet each of you, and I want to pledge to you I will continue to raise the issue of homelessness wherever I go, to "make some noise" about the appalling numbers of people in our province who have nowhere to live.

One outcome of "Finding Our Way Home" will be a report which I will release in the coming weeks. It will include draft legislation and recommendations for changes in policy. The source of that legislation and those recommendations is the wisdom and experience that so many of you shared with me over the past months.

Though the consultation is over, this BLOG will continue. We'll add reports, statistics, articles and opinion pieces. We invite you to respond with your own views.

Thanks for your commitment to ending homelessness in BC.

David Chudnovsky

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lower Mainland - Day Four Vancouver

At Lookout Shelter we met a number of people who came to Vancouver because the services they need aren't available in their home communities. Those with mental health issues are drawn to Vancouver for treatment and support, but when they get here there is nowhere for them to live and they end up in emergency shelters.

We also heard that, increasingly, those who are in transitional housing are staying longer than their allotted time, because there is no more independent housing available for them. Similarly, the stays at emergency shelters have been getting longer and longer for the same reason.

We met with many residents of the Downtown Eastside who are very fearful that their community may be disappearing. With increased condo development, the disappearance of SRO hotels and low cost apartments, the character of the neighbourhood is at risk.

Thanks to all of the kind people who took time to meet with us on this, the last day of Finding Our Way Home.

Lower Mainland - Day Four Vancouver


9:00AM - Downtown Eastside Women's Centre
10:00AM - Vancouver Police Department
11:00AM - Lookout Shelter
12:30PM - Carnegie Action Committee
1:30PM - VANDU
United We Can

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lower Mainland - Day Three Burnaby and Vancouver

Our first meeting today was with the RCMP in the Burnaby Douglas area. The Burnaby Task Force on homelessness is fortunate to have the committed and compassionate leadership of Staff Sergeant John Buis. He told us about the support services that have increasingly become available for homeless people because of increasing coordination and especially with the increased participation of the faith community. The Staff Sergeant indicated that homelessness had become more visible and probably has increased.

A number of people at the Southside Church drop-in alerted us to the problem of landlords doing credit checks on prospective tenants. This is completely unfair because homeless people can never be successful on credit checks.

At Broadway Youth Centre we heard about the problems youth (under 19) have in finding homes. Many don't have families to fall back on when they meet inevitable problems. Landlords often discriminate against young tenants. The youth centre tries to deal with this by renting the units themselves and providing ongoing support and assistance to the youth and liaison with the landlord.

At Luma Native Housing Society -- echoing what we heard yesterday at the Front Door in Surrey -- we heard about the need for more barrier free resources. They called for services that follow the client through the range of supported housing that's necessary for success. Most important, they demanded the Provincial Government have a public and explicit Homelessness Program and commitment to end homelessness.

Lower Mainland - Day Three Burnaby and Vancouver


9:30AM - Burnaby RCMP
10:30AM - Southside Church Drop-In Program
1:00PM - Broadway Youth Resource Centre
2:00PM - Raincity Housing
3:00PM - Luma Housing
4:30PM - Wilson Heights United Church Dinner

Lower Mainland - Day Two Surrey

We spent today in BC's second largest city -- Surrey. We began in Whalley, a town centre in North Surrey which has become known for a very high concentration of street level homeless people and a serious and open drug culture.

The Front Room is an emergency shelter and drop in centre which has very low barriers. This means many people who use the emergency shelter are banned from other agencies and service providers because of behaviours which are judged to be unacceptable. We were reminded by Front Room service providers that it is vital to deal with homeless people as they are. If those who stay at the Front Room are going to get off the street, then their culture, life styles and behaviours need to be accepted in the first instance and worked with step by step to achieve change.

Phoenix Drug and Alcohol Centre is a new, well-resourced facility where important work is being done.

At Newton Advocacy Centre we were told of the enormous pressure counsellors work under to find adequate shelter for people when there often isn't any place for them to go. We also heard more about the ongoing supports necessary for homeless people to be successful once they do find a place to live.

Thanks to all of the hard working people we spoke with -- and especially to the homeless people who took time to tell us about their experiences.

Lower Mainland - Day Two Surrey


9:30AM - Front Room
11:00 AM - Options Services to Communities Society
12:00 - Highland House
2:00PM - Phoenix Drug and Alcohol Recovery and
Education Society
3:00PM - Newton Advocacy Centre

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lower Mainland - Day One Abbotsford

Today in Abbotsford we saw the reality of a large Lower Mainland municipality outside of Vancouver with a significant homelessness problem.

We shared a bowl of soup at the Salvation Army and visited with staff members. We were especially impressed by four young outreach workers. They are doing their very best to connect with homeless people on the street, to encourage them to access programs and services, and to find at least temporary, emergency shelter. But they all agreed that at the end of the day homeless people need accessible and affordable housing and that's just not available in Abbotsford.

At the Women's Resource Centre we were reminded that support needs to be culturally appropriate. Indo-Canadian women are accustomed to large extended families in a household. Many are more comfortable, therefore, in a basement apartment than in an apartment building.

When we asked about the motivation for the work of the Mennonite Central Committee, we were told that finding accommodation, support and dignity for homeless people was part of the church's commitment to social justice. We agreed with their assessment that while emergency shelters are necessary, they are not a solution because they are not homes.

Lower Mainland - Day One Abbotsford


9:30AM - Cyrus Youth Centre
10:45AM - Abbotsford Food Bank
12:00 Salvation Army
1:00PM - Mennonite Central Committee
2:00PM - Women's Resource Centre
April 28, 11:00AM - Triangle

Monday, April 21, 2008

Does BC need a UN Complaint?

We usually don't publish excerpts from other people's BLOGs, but this article on David Eby's Vancouver 2010 Olympics Newswire is so good we couldn't resist. Please take the time to read the beginning here and then link to the rest of the article.

Premier Gordon Campbell was quoted in the Sun saying that "B.C. doesn't need the United Nations to tell us we have a homelessness problem, I think all of us understand that there is work to be done." Well, although we may all understand there is work to be done, there's not a lot of work getting done by the Premier and his pals. Here are some examples of why the Province needs to be taken to the UN.

(1) They've got a $250m housing endowment sitting in the bank. A budget ago, the B.C. Government set aside $250m for new social housing. Housing advocates rejoiced. The money was enough to build hundreds of new social housing units and put a real dent in Vancouver's homeless population. So what happened with the money? It sits in the bank, gathering interest, and only the interest is being spent. On a burn unit. Which isn't to say that burn units aren't important, but this is housing money. And this despite the fact that savings well beyond the current interest rate the money is receiving would be experienced by the province if they just used the money to house the homeless.


The City of Victoria is one of the most engaged when it comes to beginning to deal with the crisis of homelessness. The Mayor's Task Force on Homelessness and Mental Health has received a lot of publicity. Many service providers arre working hard to provide support to the extremely large group of homeless people in the Victoria region.

We had a good visit with the staff and volunteers at St. Vincent De Paul Society. It was significant that they told us they will be participating in the May 3 Provincial Stand for Housing. Pleae see the post on this BLOG with details on the provincial stand.

Thanks to the many people we met with in Victoria for their time, energy and for their commitment to ending homelessness.



8:45AM - Our Place Society
10:00AM - Umbrella Additions and Mental Health Resource
11:00AM - Cool Aid Society
12:00 - PEERS
1:00PM - Saint Vincent De Paul Society
2:00 PM - Victoria Native Friendship Centre
3:30PM - Mustard Seed
4:45PM - Together Against Poverty
6:00PM - Streetlink

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

2008 GVRD Homelessness Count

On April 8, preliminary results of the Metro Vancouver Homelessness Count were released. They show a dramatic increase since 2005 when the last counts were done. Almost 2,600 people were identified as homeless in the region. Every municipality showed an increase. The organizers of the count stressed that this number is an undercount – that for various reasons many who are homeless were not identified.

The Fraser Valley count will be made public later this month.

Please visit for the full 2008 GVRD Homelessness Count.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The North -- Day Four Terrace

We want to begin with an apology for taking so long to post this report. We try to report on our tour on the same day as our visits, and we hope that readers, especially those from Terrace, can forgive us this time.

We began the day with a visit to the breakfast program at Kermode Friendship Society. On our way in we met two men who had slept in the bush and said they had spent all winter outside in Terrace. Thanks to both of them for taking the time to speak with us at length. Once we got to the breakfast program we visited with volunteers, staff, board members -- and, of course, those who were having breakfast.

A highlight of our time in Terrace was a serious and comprehensive discussion with the Mayor and members of Council. We reminded them that the provincial government has committed to providing capital funding for social housing at a number of sites in Vancouver if the city provides the land. (It should be noted that this capital funding is still only a promise and there are no committed provincial capital funds.) Nevertheless, smaller centres deserve the same support to deal with their homelessness problems. We encouregaed Terrace Council, as we have every council with whom we have met, to approach the Provincial Government to make sure smaller centres are not forgotten.

The North -- Day Four Terrace


8:00 AM - Kermode Friendship Society: Breakfast Kitchen
9:00 AM - Terrace Schizophrenia Society
10:00 AM - Terrace Anti-Poverty Group Society
11:00 AM - Ksan Housing Society
1:00 PM - Mayor of Terrace and Council
2:00 PM - Muks-kum-ol Housing Society
3:00 PM - North West Addictions

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The North Day Three -- Smithers, Hazelton

Today we spent most of the afternoon in what is perhaps the most beautiful setting anywhere. We met with Chief Marjorie McRae of the Gitanmaax Band and Band members in Hazelton. With the snow capped mountains keeping watch over this exquisite valley we had a wide ranging discussion about homelessness, poverty, mental health and social conditions.

We heard about the terrible shortage of affordable housing, about the extremely poor conditions (mice, mould, cold) of many rental apartments, about the lack of stable and supportive housing for people who have succesfully completed treatment for alcohol and drug dependencies, about the large number of youth who are couch surfing and therefore at risk, about a mother with two young children who has absolutely no safe place to live so the band is paying for her to stay in a motel.

One woman courageously told us of her experience couch surfing for the last 15 years. A man explained that he often lets young people stay in his home because they have nowhere else to go and he fears for their safety. He also told us how devestating it is to see elders of the community on the street with nowhere to live.

We also heard from two articulate young women about programs in town that are making a difference -- especially a film course for youth sponsored by the Canadian Film Board which inspired youth by giving them new skills and encouraging their creativity. We watched several of these excellent short movies.

These remarkable people shared with us their challenges and obstacles, but also their hopes and dreams. It was an experience we won't soon forget and we thank them for their graciousness and their hospitality.

We committed to pursue the idea of provincially sponsored transition housing in Hazelton and will take up this issue with their local MLA and the Minister.

The North Day Three -- Smithers, Hazelton


8:00 AM - Meeting with officials at Smithers Town hall
9:00 AM - Schizophrenia Society
10:00 AM - Broadway Place Emergency Shelter
11:00 AM - Northers Society for Domestic Peace
2:00 PM - Meet with Chief Marjorie McRae, Hazelton

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The North -- Day Two Vanderhoof, Burns Lake

When we were in Revelstoke a couple of weeks ago, and during our time in the rest of the Kootenays, we heard from a number of private sector employers about the problems they are having attracting and keeping workers because there is nowhere for the workers to live. We reported on this situation in an earlier post on this blog.

Today in the north we heard about a similar problem, but this time with recruitment and retention of professional workers in the public service and the not for profit sector. At both Nechako Valley Community Services in Vanderhoof and Lake District Community Services in Burns Lake we were told stories about potential employees -- whose salaries are higher than many in these communities -- who couldn't find a place to live.

At Neighbourlink in Vanderhoof we heard from an RCMP officer about homeless people who commit petty crimes so that they can be arrested and have the shelter, safety, warmth and food that a jail cell brings. He said this happens 2 to 3 times a month in Vanderhoof. Neighburlink provides a food bank, community meals, motel vouchers, emergency support for young mothers, support for homeless transients in town, and more -- all without any support from any level of government. All they ask for is some financial support from the provincial government -- in the 90s they got a small subsidy -- and we promised we would pursue this.

So far we have noticed that a large number of the homeless people in this region are young men who couch surf and are very hard to identify so they receive minimal support and services.

The North -- Day Two Vanderhoof, Burns Lake


9:30 AM - Omineca Safe House Society
10:30 AM - Nechako Valley Community Services
11:30 AM - Vanderhoof Neighbourlink
2:00 PM - Lake District Community Services
3:30 PM - Burns Lake Village Hall

Monday, March 31, 2008

The North -- Day One Prince George

It was a glorious and sunny day in Prince George. We could almost feel spring coming on.

A highlight of the day was our time at the Native Friendship Centre. Our hosts were thoughtful and articulate, and we thought that rather than speak for them, we would publish some of what they had to say:

"Children shouldn't grow up in emergency shelters. And the elderly shouldn't die in them."

"Would you like to spend the night on a mat on the floor of a dining room?"

"You're more apt to get dollars for emergency shelters. But we have to do that other piece -- homes."

"It's not just shelter and it's not just placement. Nobody is independent. They need support to be successful."

"We need more affordable, safe, clean housing and the supports that go along with them."

"We have a few more resources but the nnumber of homeless people keeps increasing. The situation with affordable housing is way worse."

When asked what people need to help them get out of the situation of homelessness, one representative said, "We have to teach them to dream again."

At AWAWC we were reminded of something that we have been told before in other towns on the "Finding Our Way Home" tour. There is a problem for young people as they transition between Ministry of Children and Families support to adulthood. Often they can feel left on their own to cope with the same challenges they had only a few days before when they were 18 and were considered children. When we plan our housing strategy we must take into account and accomodate this difficult transition time.

At Elizabeth Fry we heard about succesful housing developments that integrate market rents, slightly less than market rents and non-market rents -- all tied to 30% of a resident's income.

We would also like to thank the St. Vincent de Paul Society for letting us share their lunch time program and for the incredibly warm and inviting atmosphere they have built.

The North -- Day One Prince George

Itinerary --

10:00 AM - Association for Women Advocating for Women
11:00 AM - Connections Youth Emergency Shelter
12:00 Noon - St. Vincent de Paul - Lunch Program
1:00 PM - Prince George Native Friendship Centre
3:00 - Elizabeth Fry Society

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Day 2-Revelstoke

Our second day in Revelstoke was a clear lesson in the depth of the housing and homelessness crisis that exists in BC’s smaller communities.

We visited with a young woman who lives in a shack that has no running water, no electricity, no plumbing and is heated by a wood stove which she also uses for cooking. Her home is comparable to many places I have seen in Townships in South Africa. For this, she and her husband pay $200 per month. She told us they will move at the end of the month because there are others who will pay more for the shack, and the landlords are considering making the structure into a greenhouse – which would require renovations to make it appropriate for plants.

We also met a woman who lives in a small motel room. It has a microwave and a bar fridge. The rent is $650 a month. In Revelstoke! She’s moving to Kelowna to share a one bedroom apartment with a friend.

The situation is so bad that employers complained to us they are having real trouble finding employees in the service industry (hotels, fast food restaurants etc.) because there is nowhere for these people to live. We were told the situation is worse in Radium Hot Springs and Invermere.

The day finished with a very productive discussion that brought together 3 city councilors and the local MLA, Norm MacDonald.

Thanks to all of the people in Revelstoke who helped make our time there so stimulating and useful.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Revelstoke Day One -- March 18, 2008

Tonight we met with a terrific grass roots Revelstoke organisation called Renters' Voice. It brings together people who are homeless, people who are at immediate risk of being homeless and community supporters. A number of those present shared stories about their situations.

One woman is facing eviction, has a child who is very ill and has been searching for appropriate accomodation for nine months but can't find anything. She describes herself as being on edge and desperate.

A man told us about being homeless. He has somewhere to stay only because a generous friend allows him to sleep in the basement near her furnace and water heater. She also provides him with support in stabilizing his health issues. He fears he will be forced to move to a small rural town without the medical and social supports he needs. He said he found a place to live today, only he'll have to learn to live without eating because the rent is so high.

A couple reported that their manufactured home park (trailer park) is facing mass eviction because it has been sold and there are plans to build condos. They cannot move their trailer and are worried they will be homeless.

Another woman has been threatened with eviction numerous times and has gone to arbitration under the Residential Tenancy Act four times. So far she has been successful in keeping her apartment but she worries she may have to leave.

All of this is happening in the context of a town with virtually no vacancy rate and a high end construction boom. This fits the pattern of many communities we have visited. When real estate prices dramatically escalate, homelessness results.

We want to thank the courageous people who took the time to tell us their stories tonight.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

David Chudnovsky's Statment in the Legislature on the Homelessness Count

(Standing Order 25B)


D. Chudnovsky: Yesterday in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and a number of other centres, hundreds of volunteers counted people who are homeless in our communities. I was privileged to be one of those volunteers.

There are two reasons why the homeless count is a vital exercise. First, we need to know the breadth and depth of the crisis so that we can develop appropriate policies and legislation to improve the situation. Second, we owe it to every one of the thousands of people in our province who are homeless to notice them — to acknowledge them, to tell them that in at least this small way they matter — and to remind everyone that the homeless people of B.C. are not an alien species from another planet. They are our sons and our daughters, our brothers and sisters. They are us.

The preliminary results will be available in a few weeks, but there are already indications the numbers will be dramatically higher than three years ago when the last counts were done.

I want to thank the volunteers who took the time to meet, speak with and count their neighbours who are homeless. I want to thank the caregivers and service providers who every day do their best to provide hope and support in a circumstance that is at present very bleak.

Most of all, I want to thank those thousands of British Columbians who are homeless for their courage, for their resilience and especially for their patience in the face of a crisis which every day challenges them and shames and demeans the rest of us.

I ask every MLA to commit today and every day to the eradication of homelessness in British Columbia. It's a crisis we can solve. It's a crisis we must solve.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Castlegar, Trail -- Day Three

Today in Castlegar we saw an extraordinary example of community concern and organizing. There is no government supported emergency shelter in town. So a group of residents has found a way to provide temporary emergency accomodation.

Enough donations have been collected to rent a small apartment in a motel/trailer park to use as an emergency shelter. This unit has room for two people to stay. The owner of the motel provides it at less than cost and arranges for maintenance and upkeep. He also rents out the rest of the motel at very affordable rates to people who need low rent housing -- and, together with his wife and the maintenance person/caretaker -- provides as much support and assistance as possible to the residents.

Members of the community provide food and do informal outreach. When they hear of someone who needs a temporary place to stay they find that person and, if necessary, bring them to the motel.

The owner of the motel was moved to tears as he told us of his commitment to make sure no one is left without a place to stay. All of these committed community members are stretched to the limit and are looking for help from the provincial government to do their impportant work.

Kootenays Day Three -- Castlegar, Trail

9:00 AM -- Food Bank, St. David's Anglican Church
9:45 AM -- Visit temporary ad hoc emergency shelter
10:00 AM -- Freedom Quest Regional Youth Services
11:00 AM -- Mental Health and Addiction Services
12:00 -- Castlegar Community Services Society
2:00 PM -- Trail Mental Health and Addictions Advocates and Volunteers
3:00 PM -- Salvation Army Kate's Kitchen

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nelson -- Day Two

Today we visited a remarkable program for at risk youth. The Cicada Place Youth Independent Housing and Outreach provides not just a home, but ongoing support for young people.

The philosophy of "Housing First" is key to solving the problem of homelessness. But to be succesful, homeless people -- like everyone else -- need to be part of a community. That means having a social network, feeling worthy and making a contribution to others. This model was very iunstructive in terms of the kinds of housing and supoports we need in BC.

We had an amazing discussion with a group of people at The Clubhouse, a welcoming and homey centre for people with mental health challenges. One participant said that the best programs for those with addiction and mental health problems include detox, treatment, support personnel and long-term independent housing on the same site.

Kootenays Day Two - Nelson

9:00 AM Salvation Army Emergency Shelter
10:00 AM Stepping Stones Emergency Shelter
11:00 AM United Church Food Cupboard
12:00 Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen
1:30 PM Mental Health Clubhouse
2:30 PM Cicada Place Youth Housing
3:30 PM Nelson Youth Centre
4:30 PM Youth Outreach Worker
6:30 PM Meet with Member of Parliament

Day 1 -- Cranbrook

We want to thank the people we met at the Salvation Army, many of them homeless, who were kind enough to tell us about their experiences. One of them told us that he
believes the situation in Cranbrook has improved this year because there is now an emergency shelter for men, and that showers and laundry facilities were built at the Salvation Army. But he reminded us that an emergency shelter is not a home. A home to him includes a room, kitchen facilties, a washroom and privacy.

We were privileged to meet the Chair of the local Housing Coalition, Anglican Priest Yme Woedrest. He argued that the municipal, provincial and federal governments and the private sector must work together to improve the situation. And he said that the crisis of homelessness will not be solved unless developers' motives include compassion as well as profit.

Many people in Cranbrook talked to us about a cruel irony. As the real estate boom increases property values at the top of the market, rents at the bottom of the market are pulled up and homelessness increases.

Kootenays Day One - Cranbrook

Cranbrook, February 19, ITINERARY

8:15 AM -- The Refuge Men's Shelter
8:30 AM -- Salvation Army Breakfast Program
9:30 AM -- Food Bank
10:00 AM -- Women's Centre
11:00 AM -- ANKORS AIDS Support Group
11:30 AM -- Salvation Army Lunch Program
1:00 PM -- Community Assistance Program (MEIA)
2:00 PM -- Meeting with Chair of Housing Coalition
3:00 PM -- Meeting with Mayor of Cranbrook
3:45 PM -- Meeting with Member of Parliament

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cranbrook Day one

Our daily report from Cranbrook will be posted tomorrow morning due to technical difficulties. Currently we are in Nelson getting ready for day 2 of Finding Our Way Home. Please visit our blog tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

BC HAS WORST RECORD IN COUNTRY ON HOMELESSNESS SPENDING:New Democrats hope meeting of provincial housing ministers will wake up Campbell

VANCOUVER – As B.C.’s Rich Coleman sits face to face with fellow housing ministers from across the country today, he stands out from his colleagues with a clear distinction -- his government is dead last when it comes to investing in affordable housing.

"People are dying on the streets of B.C., and our government spends less money than any other province in the country on providing affordable housing,” said New Democrat homelessness critic David Chudnovsky. "I don’t know how our Housing Minister will be able to look his colleagues in the eye.

“At the very least I hope that Minister Coleman will come out of this meeting and tell Gordon Campbell that B.C. holds a shameful record, and that we need an immediate investment in housing to address the crisis in homelessness that his government has created.”

Chudnovsky noted that Wellesley Institute's 2008 national housing report card, released earlier this week, says, "On a per-person basis, spending ranges from a low of $41 in British Columbia to a provincial high of $256 in Saskatchewan."

"This has very real and tragic consequences,” said Chudnovsky. “Yesterday I visited the alley where a homeless man burned himself fatally last weekend trying to keep warm during a cold winter.

“The Campbell government is tragically unaware of the extent of the homelessness crisis,” he pointed out. “Last week Minister Coleman released his estimate of the number of homeless people in B.C, and it was at least one third of the actual count.”

Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan said she hopes the meeting with housing ministers from other provinces will help the Campbell government understand the gravity of the homelessness crisis.

Kwan noted that according to the Wellesley Institute’s report, the B.C. government promised $130 million in 2001 and so far they've only delivered $39 million - $91 million short of their commitment. "Is it a wonder homelessness has grown so dramatically?’ said Kwan.

"Hopefully Minister Coleman will learn from his colleagues that B.C.’s housing efforts are terribly inadequate," Kwan said. "We are a prosperous province with record surpluses, and it's a disgrace to abandon so many people."

Chudnovsky is in the midst of a province-wide consultation on homelessness, meeting with people who are homeless, front line workers, service providers and local officials. His consultation will take him to the Kootenays later this month.

Monday, February 4, 2008


An important new study has confirmed Opposition Critic for Homelessness, David Chudnovsky's, survey results regarding homelessness in BC. It shows the crisis could be three times as bad as BC Minister Responsible for Homelessness Rich Coleman claims.

Our survey counted “a minimum of 10,500 homeless people in BC.” We made it clear that this number was conservative and the reality was likely much worse. Coleman has claimed on several occasions that there are “between 4,500 and 5,500” homeless people in the province.

The report concludes between 8,000 and 15,500 are "absolutely homeless," meaning they are living on the streets, couch surfing or otherwise without shelter. The report says the authors confirmed their figures with "local stakeholders and key informants."

The authors are SFU's Michelle Patterson and Julian Somers, Calgary's Karen McIntosh and Alan Shiell, and UBC's Jim Frankish. The report was prepared at the request of the health ministry's mental health and addictions branch. Other partners and contributors to the report include the provincial health authorities, the Employment and Income Assistance Ministry and Coleman's own Forests and Range Ministry.

The report's number—which includes only people with severe addictions and mental illness -— far exceeds the figure used by Coleman. It does not include the thousands of homeless people in the province who have neither mental health nor addictions challenges.

The report also says that despite impressions that homelessness, mental illness and addiction are urban problems, interviews with front-line workers found the same problems were "highly prevalent in rural settings," again echoing the results of our survey.

For the full report see Housing and Support for Adults with Severe Addictions and/or Mental Illness in British Columbia.

Thursday, January 24, 2008



Campbell government’s count is half of the real numbers, says Chudnovsky

VICTORIA – The Campbell Liberals' undercount of the number of homeless people in B.C. shows how out of touch the government is with the homelessness crisis in B.C., says New Democrat MLA David Chudnovsky.

"The numbers released today by the Minister responsible for homelessness are at least 50 per cent shy of reality," said Chudnovsky, the NDP's critic for homelessness. "Minister Coleman says there are 4,500 to 5,500 homeless people in the whole province. But the facts show there are that many homeless people in just five communities alone."

Chudnovsky said the numbers of homeless people in just Kelowna (500), Langley (100), Prince George (1050), Vancouver (2300), and Victoria (1550), amount to 5,500.

"What about all the other communities in B.C.? Clearly the Minister is out of touch with the reality. Maybe that explains his feeble response to the provincial homelessness crisis," said Chudnovsky.

On Nov. 30, Chudnovsky released a survey that shows there are more than 10,500 homeless people in the province. This conservative total comes from municipalities and front-line service providers in 60 municipalities across the province.

Chudnovsky has repeatedly asked the Minister for a count of the number of homeless people in B.C. since October. "He finally came up with an answer, and it's dead wrong," said Chudnvosky. "How can he do his job effectively if he doesn't even know the extent of the problem?"

Chudnvosky challenged Coleman to come clean on his sources. "I stand by my survey results. If Coleman thinks the municipalities and service providers are wrong, he should tell us what his figures are and identify his sources for each community in B.C. the way I did," he said. Chudnovsky challenged the Minister to join him on the next leg of his provincial consultation on homelessness, which has already visited Nanaimo, Courtenay, Kamloops, Kelowna and Penticton.

Details on Cundnovsky's consultation, called Finding Our Way Home: A Consultation on the Homelessness Crisis in B.C., can be found at


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Day 3-Penticton

Our day in Penticton was a lesson in how critical the crisis of homelessness is in smaller centres in the province. The situation in the Okanagan is complicated by the fact that there is a huge influx of tourists in the summer months. It used to be that homeless people could survive the summer outside and spend the winter in low cost motel accommodation. This is more difficult now since even these rents have increased substantially. While many condominiums are being built (and many of these sit empty most of the year after they are completed) almost no low cost housing is available.

Our meeting with the Penticton City Council's social development committee was extremely useful. I want to thank the city councillors, school trustees, business people, health and social service workers, representatives from not for profit organizations, and Summerland and Penticton residents for taking the time to meet,
and especially for their clear commitment to finding solutions.

The message I get from across the province is consistent. Incomes -- both social assistance and minimum wage -- are too low for people to afford existing housing units. And even if people had more money to spend on housing, affordable units just aren't available.

Day 3-Penticton January 18th, 2008

9am-OOKNAKANE Friendship Centre, Crisis Line
10:30am- Christopher Housing Society
11:30am- Soupiterra
12:30- South Okanagan/Similkameen Brain Injury Society
2pm- City Council, Social Development Advisory Council

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Day 2-Kelowna

As we have said on many occasions our survey of homelessness in BC(which shows 10,580 homeless)is very conservative. Today, in Kelowna, we saw a perfect example of how our numbers are often underestimated. The survey indicated that Kelowna had 279 homeless people but we were told by a staff member at the city that the real number is closer to 500. This comes hot on the heels of Minister Coleman claiming that our figures are inflated.

We also saw an excellent example of community problem solving and innovative and supportive housing at the Willow Hotel. There a private landlord has provided this soon to be demolished building to the Canadian Mental Health Association for winter supportive housing for people with mental health challenges. We spoke with a number of the clients who would otherwise be homeless and heard their reports of how integral the program is to their health. While this program is slated to close at the end of February there are important lessons to be learned from its success.

Tomorrow we travel to Penticton.

Day 2-Kelowna

Itinerary-January 17th, 2008

10am-Community Development Planner-City of Kelowna
11am-1pm- Union Gospel Mission
1pm- Canadian Mental Health, The Willow
2pm- John Howard Society
3pm- NOW Canada Safe Centre
4pm- Mayor Sharon Shepherd, City of Kelowna


This young couple faces the prospects of sleeping in the streets in sub zero weather in Kamloops BC.