Vancouver mayor blames Ottawa for continued growth of homelessness in city

The figure means Vancouver has the highest per capita rate of homelessness for any major Canadian city

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says it’s “devastating” to see the homeless count rise and the city needs more investment from Ottawa if it’s going to solve the problem.

Preliminary figures released Wednesday show the homeless count rose by two per cent to more than 2,200 in the past year, the same rate that it rose in the year previous.

The figure means Vancouver has the highest per capita rate of homelessness for any major Canadian city, but Stewart says it would be worse if Vancouver and senior levels of government had not introduced aggressive measures to increase the supply of housing.

Those measures include 930 social and supportive homes built in 2018 and 606 temporary modular homes built and occupied in 2018 and early 2019.

Stewart said the fact that more than one quarter of survey respondents said they had been homeless for less than six months shows the affordability crisis remains alive and well, adding that solving the complicated problem requires co-operation across different levels of government.

But he accused Ottawa of falling short on promised investments. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed millions of dollars to increase supply in the city and only delivered about $300,000 through two announcements that Stewart attended, the mayor said.

“The big missing piece here is from the federal government. The prime minister pledged to cut homelessness in half but we still haven’t seen any real money hit the ground here,” he said.

A statement from Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos disputed Stewart’s assessment of the federal response, saying Ottawa has spent $28 million over the past two years on fighting homelessness in Vancouver.

READ MORE: B.C.’s homeless, vulnerable only receive adequate care when nearing death, study says

Stewart’s office later clarified that Ottawa has in fact delivered millions but the city still needs more to stem the crisis.

Duclos said Ottawa will spend another $83 million in Vancouver over the next four years.

“We recognize there’s still much work to do, and we are continuing to work with the city of Vancouver, other levels of government, NGOs, Indigenous partners, and communities across Canada to provide more stable housing to people living in homelessness and increasing support for vulnerable groups,” he said.

The count includes 614 people who said they were “unsheltered,” and 1,609 people who were “sheltered,” which could include various forms of unofficial housing like emergency and transitional shelters, hospitals, living in cars, abandoned buildings, or staying with friends.

The “point in time” measure was determined through voluntary surveys over a 24-hour period and the city says the numbers are likely larger than reported.

The results show some segments of the population are disproportionately affected by homelessness.

Indigenous people are “vastly ovverrepresented,” with 39 per cent of respondents identifying as Indigenous even though only 2.2 per cent of Vancouver’s overall population consists of Aboriginal Peoples.

Seniors make up an increasing proportion and people who are homeless consistently report a range of health issues.

About 38 per cent have disabilities and about 70 per cent have addictions, with cigarettes representing the most common substance, followed by opioids and methamphetamine.

Stewart said that while increasing housing supply is crucial, tackling homelessness requires a multipronged approach including improved mental health services for the 44 per cent of people in the count who said they have mental health issues.

Some good news in the statistics, like a slight drop in the number of unsheltered people, show that the city’s policy initiatives are starting to work, Stewart said. In the meantime, he said, it’s personally difficult to see how many people are experiencing homelessness as the first count was released since he became mayor last year.

“I think we’re all devastated by it. This has been an issue that has been top of mind for many councils over the last decade or so and I think we’re just starting to see it stabilize and it gives me some hope that there is a possibility to really lessen the crisis,” he said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

UPDATE: ‘Spontaneous combustion’ likely cause of fire at mushroom composting facility on Lougheed Highway

First responders were at the blaze near the Skawahlook First Nation Tuesday

Approval for AirBnB-style rentals in Kent delayed after public hearing

Staff will be taking the bylaw amendments back for a closer look before final adoption

Kent Harrison Emergency Support team honoured for work during 2017 wildfire season

The volunteer group was activated for 254 days in a row to help evacuees

Trial dates set for three men accused of 2017 killing near Hope

Lawyers for the accused appeared in Kelowna at B.C. Supreme Court on Monday

Wildfire threatens weekend campers at Chehalis Lake

The fire started on the north side of Chehalis Lake Saturday

VIDEO: Reading splashes into Agassiz’s Ferny Coombe Pool

The Agassiz Library held its annual Reading in the Pool event Friday, June 14

Fate of accused in Canadian couple’s 1987 killings in jury’s hands

William Talbott’s lawyer says DNA doesn’t prove murder

Child killed after being hit in driveway on Vancouver Island

The driver of the vehicle remained at the crash scene and is fully cooperating

Eating sandwiches, putting on makeup behind the wheel could land you a fine

RCMP say if you cause an accident while eating you could be penalized

Cat badly hurt in animal trap was likely stuck for days, B.C. owner says

Blu, a three-year-old house cat, suffered severe damage to his hind leg after being stuck in trap for days

40 cats surrendered in apparent hoarding at B.C. home

Officers found the cats living among piles of garbage and feces, suffering from fleas

Vancouver Aquarium drops cetacean ban lawsuit in new lease agreement

Ocean Wise CEO Lasse Gustavsson called the updated lease an exciting new chapter for the aquarium

Plane veers off runway, into ditch at Langley Airport

Fire, ambulance, and police are on scene

Okanagan RCMP bike patrol rolls up on alleged stolen vehicle from Burnaby

The driver, a 30-year-old Kelowna man, has been held in custody and is facing possible charges of possession of stolen property and obstructing a police officer

Most Read