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.

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