Only 37 per cent of tenants living in four buildings originally built in Vancouver to house homeless people were actually homeless before moving into their suites, according to a city staff report released today.
The report, which goes before city council Oct. 20, revealed that 144 of 388 people were homeless before being offered a place to live at 1005 Station St., 337 West Pender St., 525 Abbott St. and 1338 Seymour St.
The majority of tenants—167—were living in single-room occupancy hotels prior to their moves. Another 47 were in a hospital, jail or a treatment facility and 29 came from a long-term care facility or other housing.
“At this point, the best data available indicates that for every three units built so far, just over one unit houses a person documented to have been homeless prior to moving in,” said the report authored by Brenda Prosken, the city’s deputy general manager of community services.
The buildings in question were built on four of the 14 city-owned sites that staff and politicians have referred to many times as facilities that would help end homelessness in Vancouver.
The provincial government agreed to pay for the construction of the buildings along with financial help from the privately run Streetohome Foundation.
Council specifically approved the contribution of land on the sites to ensure that “local homeless were able to have their needs met in their communities,” Prosken wrote.
When all 14 buildings are built, it will provide 1,575 new units of housing, along with access to medical, health and counselling services. The 2011 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count preliminary report recorded 1,605 homeless people in the city.
Prosken noted the assumption that the 1,575 units would be occupied by homeless people is embedded in the city’s 2012 Housing and Homeless Strategy and is “an assumption on which both the city’s and the Streetohome Foundation’s ‘housing gap’ for the homeless has been calculated.”
B.C. Housing, which is the housing arm of the provincial government, and their chosen non-profit building managers decide which tenants move in to the buildings.
However, city staff, B.C. Housing and the Streetohome Foundation established an “oversight committee” to ensure placement of tenants is in accordance with the memorandum of agreement signed by the province and the city related to the 14 sites.
The agreement stated the buildings would “accommodate the homeless and those at risk of homeless who are living on Vancouver’s streets, in its shelters and in the city’s downtown single-room occupancy hotels.”
The agreement describes those people as frequently suffering from mental illness, substance abuse issues and in most need of safe, secure affordable housing with support services.
“While it is acknowledged that the tenant mix in the new social/supportive housing must be balanced so it is manageable and sustainable, the focus of the city’s efforts through the committee has been to ensure as many of Vancouver’s homeless get housed in the 14 sites and have access to supports,” Prosken wrote.
The next building to open is in Dunbar in November, where 48 street homeless were counted in 2010. Most of them are older men, between 45 and 65, with medical illnesses, including mental health and alcohol problems. Four of them died last winter.
“In an effort to ensure that our local homeless are not disadvantaged from competing demands on other agencies and housing service providers, a coordinated outreach effort is now underway involving staff from each of the 14 site partners as well as volunteers from local neighbourhood groups where appropriate, to prioritize housing the local homeless populations,” Prosken concluded.
Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang described his reaction as “angry” when learning only 37 per cent of people living in the four buildings were previously homeless.
“We have been very clear that we want to make sure that every unit created is for homeless people, and our staff have been relentless on that front,” Jang said. “B.C. Housing seems to have a different idea and this is what we’re up against.”