Local governments across British Columbia are scrambling to find sites for the latest round of provincial funding to house the homeless, and are debating whether the focus now should be on temporary homes or something more permanent.
The province reached its target of finding locations for more than 2,000 units of temporary modular housing in 22 communities across B.C., with the final site in Vancouver selected earlier this month. Some of those projects prompted residents to stage protests, while at least one city outright rejected the concept.
Now, the process is beginning all over again with the province’s decision, announced earlier this month, to more than double the number of units already built.
“We are looking for options for that new funding – whether it’s temporary modular housing or other options as well,” said Abi Bond, Vancouver’s director of affordable-housing projects. “We might be able to find something creative.”
But Ms. Bond wouldn’t say more than that, as her department has just started exploring what the possibilities might be.
One thing she is sure of is that Vancouver still needs much more housing for its homeless population, in spite of having identified 10 sites for 600 units in the city in the past year. Small tent camps have sprung up in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood and other places around the city.
“We’re still feeling a lot of pressure in the city with a lot of encampments,” Ms. Bond said.
In Surrey, city officials are pleased with the results of the three temporary housing sites that were approved there, which allowed them to put some of the people who had been camping along an area that became known as the Surrey Strip into homes.
Now, they too are looking at what comes next, with the province’s announcement earlier this month that it will spend $1.2-billion for 2,500 supportive-housing apartments in the next 10 years.
“The first phase was temporary accommodations. That has been working very well. Now we’re working on phase 2, more permanent homes,” said Jas Rehal, manager of public-safety operations.
He is planning to come to council with a plan sometime in the next four months for where those homes will go and what they’ll look like. Surrey’s first phase was more like trailers, he said, while the second phase will produce homes more like the ones going up now in Vancouver.
The initial push for temporary modular homes faced resistance to several projects, in particular proposed sites that were located in residential neighbourhoods that have not typically been home to shelters, social housing or related services. City councils in places such as Richmond, Maple Ridge and south Vancouver approved projects despite vocal opposition.
The loudest pushback happened in the south Vancouver neighbourhood of Marpole, where opponents warned that the project would put children at a nearby school in danger.
B.C.’s Housing Minister is hoping that, this time, some of the cities that balked at having any temporary housing for the homeless will come on board, along with others that simply missed out on the deadline.
“Saanich and Nanaimo are struggling with tent cities. With Saanich, we’re working with them to identify land,” Selina Robinson said. “And there had been historically an opportunity in Nanaimo, but it didn’t pass. We’ve said to Nanaimo, ‘We’ll continue working with you but you have to work with us.’ ”
A wide range of cities and towns did jump at the chance for some new housing for their homeless residents, including places as seemingly unlikely as Queen Charlotte on Haida Gwaii and Parksville on Vancouver Island.
People working in the housing sector say it’s too soon to tell how much of a difference the units have made. Although sites have been approved, many still haven’t been built.
“We won’t know the impact until the next homeless count [next March],” Ms. Bond said.