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Homelessness: Keep up the fight for street people
By Cheryl Chan, The ProvinceJanuary 20, 2010Rogers Chocolates
A homeless man beds down on Cordova Street in Vancouver.
Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG
In its final week, Operation Phoenix is making six key recommendations for the Downtown eastside based on our experience covering the neighbourhood's issues over the last year. These are the third and fourth proposals. Watch for the rest as we continue our coverage each day this week.
Intensify the fight against homelessness. Develop clear objectives, budgets and targets over a specific time frame so progress can be measured.Success shouldn't be defined by how many dollars have been spent or people housed but by whether or not the number of homeless people is going down.
WHY IT'S NEEDED
Since 2002, the number of people homeless in Greater Vancouver has more than doubled. Despite an increased focus on homelessness, mental health and addictions from the provincial government since 2004, the numbers continue to grow — increasing by 22 per cent in Metro Vancouver and 16 per cent in Vancouver between 2005 and 2008.
Last March, Auditor-General John Doyle issued a scathing report on the government's lack of a clear strategy in addressing homelessness, which he said was still on the rise. Goals and objectives were "ill-defined" and there were no overall targets the public could use to hold the government accountable.
The day before the report was released, Housing Minister Rich Coleman announced a new Homelessness Intervention Project (HIP) to tackle chronic homelessness in five B.C. cities.
He disagreed with the report's findings and said he believed homelessness had decreased.
There is no reliable data to back up either position.
Last year the provincial government opened 1,126 newly renovated single-room-occupancy hotel rooms in the Downtown Eastside, greatly improving the quality of housing in the neighbourhood. Six new supportive housing sites are under construction.
Since the Homelessness Intervention Project started, the ministry said, it has placed approximately 1,930 people in housing, including more than 1,000 in Vancouver. But whether this translates into an overall decrease in homeless numbers, nobody knows. The next homeless count is not until 2011.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
The provincial housing ministry is the lead agency, but the solution will require funding from all levels of government as well as efforts from non-profits and the private sector.
WHAT THEY SAY
"We have a pretty comprehensive plan already to end homelessness in B.C.," said Coleman.
The Homelessness Intervention Project's target of housing 1,800 people over 18 months was exceeded in six months, he added.
He is also supportive of the Streetohome Foundation's plan, unveiled last week, which aims to provide 2,000 housing units in Vancouver over the next 10 years, including 600 units by 2012.
"I'm comfortable with the plan," said Coleman. "The nice thing about Streetohome is that here's a group of people who have finally stepped up to the plate. They have a corporate and community responsibility that isn't as exciting as an art gallery or philanthropy, but are saying, 'We want to be part of the solution.'"
Coleman said Streetohome hasn't asked the province for funding yet, and is still focused on its own campaign to raise money through private and corporate donations.
"The homeless file has to be looked at in conjunction with mental health and addictions," said the minister, adding that resources are better targeted to helping people than to homeless counts.
When asked what the numbers will say in 2011, Coleman said: "They'll be down."