Almost 500 homeless people who resided in the city’s shelters have moved into permanent housing over the past five years, city council heard Tuesday.
The news was welcomed by Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang, who congratulated city staff for its work with B.C. Housing and non-profits to find homes for 480 people. Jang repeated the number — 480 — several times as he addressed council.
“That’s just simply amazing,” said Jang, adding that he felt vindicated about supporting the city’s shelter program. He noted he was spit on by some residents upset about having shelters in their neighbourhoods. “We’ve got the proof now.”
Brenda Prosken, the city’s general manager of community services, told council that many of those 480 people have moved in to new social housing buildings funded by the provincial government.
Eight of 14 social housing buildings to be built under an agreement involving the provincial government, the city and the Streetohome Foundation are now open. They are located from the Downtown Eastside to Dunbar and include a building in Kitsilano.
Prosken said 42 per cent of the 331 residents in those buildings were either previously on the street or in shelters. She said another two buildings are expected to open over the next few months, adding another 126 units.
Prosken said the goal is to have 50 per cent of tenants in the buildings come from the street or a shelter. That goal, however, is difficult to reach when homeless people, many of whom have a mental illness, prefer to stay on the street.
“It is not getting easier, it is getting more difficult,” she said. “The more hardened these individuals are, having been on the street for so many years, the more supports, the more partnerships and the more challenges we face.”
Despite the intake of homeless people in social housing buildings, council heard that an average of 300 people have continued to live on the street since 2010. That number was recorded at 273 in the city’s homeless count in March.
Another 1,327 people were counted as living in a shelter for a total of 1,600 homeless people in Vancouver. Last year, the city’s count revealed 306 people were living on the street and 1,296 in shelters.
Prosken noted those numbers could rise with the pending closures of the Dunsmuir hotel and the At Home/Chez Soi mental health program at the former Bosman hotel. Those closures could translate to another 300 people turned back out onto the street.
The city, however, is working with B.C. Housing to set up interim housing, including 100 rooms at the former Biltmore hotel and 57 rooms at a Ramada on East Hastings. The city also purchased the Kingsway Continental to accommodate tenants from the Old Continental and renovations to Taylor Manor on Boundary Road are underway.
The city’s 2013 homeless count found 73 per cent of people were male and the largest group was 35 to 54 years old. Three out of every five people surveyed reported an addiction and 46 per cent said they had a mental illness.
Thirty per cent were aboriginal and 16 per cent reported having no income, which has more than doubled since 2008 when seven per cent of homeless people reported not having an income.
The majority of the homeless were found in the Downtown Eastside and the northeast side of the city. The number of homeless on the street dropped from 811 in 2008 to 273 this year, according to the city’s counts.
NPA Coun. George Affleck urged city staff to consider having two counts per year to get a more accurate number of people living on the streets when shelters are closed. Affleck noted the City of Calgary conducts counts twice a year.
Council learned Tuesday that the provincial government will fund four city shelters this winter. The shelters are considered “low barrier,” meaning people can bring carts and their pets inside the facilities.
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