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.