Homelessness at all-time high but not the story it used to be

12th & Cambie

12th and Cambie

That story about how Vancouver has the highest number of homeless people in recent history sure didn’t stay in the media consciousness for long.

Probably eclipsed by another real estate story explaining how everyone is doomed except those with a house on the West Side.

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Or, maybe it was a story about bike lanes, or marijuana or a crow trying to make off with a knife from a crime scene.

Guilty as charged on a few of those.

The sad fact is this city is full of desperate people but news about homelessness hardly gets any play beyond the day of an announcement or release of a report.

Write down this number: 1,847.

Now imagine that many people knocking on your door, asking if they could sleep on your floor for the night. For music fans out there, think about it this way: That’s almost twice the capacity of people allowed in the Commodore Ballroom.

Those 1,847 were the number of homeless people that volunteers counted in Vancouver over two days in March. It’s the highest number of homeless people recorded since the city led or participated in counts dating back to 2005.

A total of 539 were recorded as living/surviving/existing on the street, including those in cars and campers. The other 1,258 were residing in a shelter of some sort.

That number, by the way, is an undercount.

That means homeless people who weren’t found or had left their sleeping spot on the streets before volunteers walked by weren’t recorded. Also, on one night of the count, 315 people were turned away from shelters. It’s unknown whether they were counted later.

Some of you might be thinking that a jump from 1,364 homeless people in 2005 to 1,847 in 2016 kind of makes sense, since the city’s overall population has grown, too.

A valid point.

But how to explain the numbers when considering the provincial government and the city have worked to open 13 new buildings to provide about 1,500 units of housing to get people off the street and out of shelters? Also, keep in mind that 325 homeless people died in B.C. between 2006 and 2014.

It’s long been said that Vancouver has been a magnet for poor people. Climate refugees is a term I’ve heard. The warm weather, the housing and the services are all here for the country’s most vulnerable.

Of 79 homeless people counted in March who had been in Vancouver for less than a month, 13 were from Metro Vancouver, 22 from the rest of B.C., 17 from Alberta, 13 from other provinces and nine from outside of Canada.

No surprise then that Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles are attractive climates to America’s homeless. All of those cities, by the way, are under homelessness states of emergency.

Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang told me this week that senior governments have to do more to address the drivers of homelessness.

So that means more treatment for mental health and addictions, keeping foster kids in care longer, increasing welfare and disability rates, legislating a higher minimum wage and having better transitions in place for prisoners and patients with no fixed address who are released and discharged.

And. Build. More. Housing.

Sadly, the ask is not news.

Neither is Housing Minister Rich Coleman saying the provincial government has done more on this file than any jurisdiction in Canada. Neither is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to put money on the table for affordable housing and develop a national housing strategy. The mayor’s failed promise to end street homelessness by 2015 is also old news.

What will be news is when the homeless population plummets. Right now, that seems unlikely. And that’s not good news for anyone.

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Something to watch: Almost all of San Francisco’s media outlets – newspaper, magazine, television and radio – will blitz the city June 29 with coverage on homelessness. The goal is to put such a spotlight on the crisis that someone in government will do something meaningful to address the problem.






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