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Vancouver, B.C., wants to end homelessness, expects a battle

Courtesy of First United Church
Vancouver, British Columbia, is debating a move to end homelessness. Pictured are many people sleeping in the First United Sanctuary. The Canadian city's plan is similar to one under way in Seattle.

City Council in Vancouver, British Columbia, is debating a strategy to end homelessness within ten years, and the always contentious issue has comparisons to efforts already under way in King County.

The strategy calls for the city to spend $42 million (Canadian) over the next decade to create 38,000 new affordable homes. This would include nearly 8,000 “supportive and social-housing units,” some of which would be targeted for residents with health issues or addictions that need specialized care.

In an idea similar to the “Landlord Liaison Project” in King County, the Vancouver strategy is proposing a “rent bank,” where tenants can apply for a loan or grant that would be paid directly to the landlord to avoid eviction. 

Contention expected

The issue of fighting homelessness in Vancouver is often a hot issue, with varying interests debating merits of any particular idea.

The Reverend Ric Matthews is the Executive Minister at First United Church, which is well known for running several social programs to help residents of Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside.

He says the homeless strategy has to have a more integrated approach to be successful.

“The analysts within the health department, the analysts within the housing department, the analysts within the social welfare payments-decision making process. They certainly need to be sitting together, through their different lenses, but in a collaborative, integrated way. “

In Seattle and King County, a ten-year plan on homelessness is just over the halfway mark.  It called for 9500 units of subsidized housing, which are on-track. It is now feared that the numbers of homeless will persist or increase, due to a gap between housing costs and wages.

However, statistics show the number of homeless in the City of Vancouver itself dropped from 1,715 to 1,605 people over this past year. Homeless living on the street, as opposed to a shelter, has decreased by 82 percent since 2008.