Some semi-interesting news appeared in my email inbox Wednesday morning.
It was a news release from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing announcing that it will spend $2.8 million this winter to provide 300 shelter beds at 10 locations in Vancouver.
Which is good news for homeless people.
But why only semi-interesting?
Because for the better part of a decade, there has always been a scrap around this time of the year between the provincial government and the city over funding for winter shelter beds. On the government side, it was then-housing minister Rich Coleman putting up his dukes to Mayor Gregor Robertson and his scrappy councillor, Kerry Jang.
It made for some good copy.
But after some very quotable exchanges, with all involved still standing, Coleman would eventually buckle and agree to pay for the beds and staff to operate the shelters. The minister, however, always made a point of outlining the millions of dollars spent in Vancouver on 13 social housing buildings, more than 20 single-room-occupancy hotels, year-round shelters, temporary housing and rent supplements.
As Coleman told me last October in one of our many conversations: “The one thing I always say to [the city] is, ‘You might want to start off by saying that we’d like to thank our most significant partner in housing, who’s paying 90 per cent of the bills.’”
That quote came the week after Robertson accused the Christy Clark government of waging “war on the poor” while investing “billions and billions of dollars in projects of questionable merit.” He was referring to the Site C dam project and replacement of the Massey Tunnel.
Anyway, along comes John Horgan and his NDP crew, and the farm team in Vancouver is now quite happy. No arguing, no grandstanding, no scrap. I’ve got to think former Vision Vancouver city councillor, Geoff Meggs, who resigned in July to become Horgan’s chief of staff had something to do with this.
The release takes some partisan shots at Coleman and company, saying this year’s $2.8 million for the shelters is $1.2 million more than last year’s commitment. We also learn the shelters will open Nov. 1, “a month earlier than in previous years.” The city will spend $720,000 to cover leases and improvements to the shelters.
How’s the mayor feeling about this?
As you might expect a former NDP MLA to feel.
And I quote: "We're grateful for the B.C. government's funding boost this year to open more shelter spaces, a month earlier than usual, on top of 600 temporary modular homes. This winter, providing a warm place to sleep, a meal, and access to health services can make all the difference to getting people back on their feet and into secure homes."
That reference to 600 modular homes is news regular readers already know about it. I’m hearing the city is close to announcing where the first of what will be 10 to 12 modular complexes will be built. It will be on private land.
As I said off the top, all this is good news for homeless people.
But, as I heard during the recent byelection campaign from several of the candidates vying to replace Meggs on council, Vancouver needs way more housing. Robertson and his Vision crew should be fierce fighters in lobbying senior levels of government, they said.
The homeless population in Vancouver continues to grow, even with additional shelter spaces and new housing. This year’s count showed 2,138 people were without a home. As Meggs himself said last year after learning more than 1,800 people were counted in Vancouver as homeless: “They are sobering numbers.”
An observation, I assume, he hasn’t forgotten.