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.

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