Lower Mainland mayors say homelessness has reached a "state of crisis," with more than 4,000 people in need of housing and more than 70 homeless camps in operation.
Metro Vancouver's homelessness task force released a report Monday that called for an action plan to be put in place by the end of the year, and 3,000 more units of transitional housing built by the end of 2019.
Nicole Read, the mayor of Maple Ridge and co-chair of the task force, said immediate action is needed for the thousands of people without permanent shelter. She said a longer-term strategy must also be implemented to reduce the pathways into homelessness and enhance the pathways out.
"What we need is an actual plan, because right now, we're all throwing numbers around," she said in an interview.
"Metro Vancouver says we've got 4,000 homeless people. We're seeing a rise. The provincial government comes out and says, 'Well, we've created new units of housing.' But if you look around, do you feel like homelessness is going in the right direction?"
The report said five people become homeless within Metro Vancouver every week and the region has become a catchment area for other parts of the country with fewer economic opportunities and potentially less access to services and shelter.
It said 80 per cent of homeless people in the region have a chronic health issue. Forty-nine per cent have an addiction and 34 per cent suffer from mental illness. Thirty-one per cent of homeless people are of First Nations descent, despite the fact First Nations comprise 3 per cent of the region's overall population.
The report said the need for systemic improvements to "effectively manage the crisis is urgent" and requires action from all levels of government, though it specifically called on the province to do more. It said the region's homeless population has steadily increased over the past 15 years and 60,000 households are vulnerable to homelessness because they spend more than half their income on shelter.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who was the task force's other co-chair and had vowed to end street homelessness in his city by 2015, said in a statement that the situation throughout the region is "spiralling out of control."
The report made 12 recommendations as part of its action plan, including the development of a provincial poverty-reduction strategy.
B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman in a statement said approximately 1,900 units of affordable rental housing are in development or under construction in Metro Vancouver. He said the province also recently announced funding to create 1,600 new units of affordable rental housing in the region.
"We are proud of our investments to address homelessness in Metro Vancouver, and recognize our partners can also play more meaningful roles," the statement read.
A spokesperson for the minister, when asked specifically about the request for an additional 3,000 units of transitional housing, said it has not committed to that. When asked about the poverty-reduction strategy, the spokesperson said the province's approach to poverty reduction – building the economy, creating jobs and providing targeted supports for those who need them – is working.
Though Ms. Read said the province has the resources to better manage the homelessness situation, Mr. Coleman said municipalities could also do more, particularly around zoning.
David Eby, the Opposition BC NDP's housing critic, said his party has tabled private member's legislation calling for a poverty reduction plan six times, including Monday morning.
"I think you're going to see this election contested on who has the best housing plan as one of the key issues for Metro Vancouver. The NDP will be tabling a platform that includes a significant build of affordable housing, not just for the people in this report, but also work force housing for people who live, work and pay taxes in Metro Vancouver and can't find an affordable place to live," he said in an interview.