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Province must help with homeless problem, Vancouver mayor says

Vancouver homeless.

brett beadle The Globe and Mail

Mayor Gregor Robertson acknowledges the numbers of homeless people on Vancouver's streets will climb again this winter – unless the province comes up with more money for shelters.

Mr. Robertson launched Vision Vancouver's plan Sunday for tackling homelessness and affordable housing as part of his campaign leading up to the Nov. 19 civic election. The mayor emphasized that the party's efforts had reduced the number of homeless street people by more than 600 in his time in office.

"And, this year, for the first time in over a decade, homelessness [in both shelters and on the street]actually dropped," said the mayor, standing under a bridge deck where homeless people used to sleep regularly and across the street from a social-housing project under construction.

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But much of the party's success in getting people off the street has depended on getting the province to agree to pay for far more shelters spaces than it used to.

In the past two years, Mr. Robertson has managed to get the province to cover the operating costs of 500 temporary all-winter spaces, on top of the 640 the province funds as year-round shelters.

This year, the province declined to pay for four shelters that housed people in areas outside the downtown, where shelter spaces have traditionally been clustered. Those four, with 160 beds among them, include Mount Pleasant, Kitsilano, Granville Slopes and the West End.

And, Mr. Robertson says, the city can't take on that $2-million cost. So street homelessness is bound to increase unless the province can be persuaded to come on board again.

"We haven't given up," he said. "We're continuing to work with the province to make our case."

However, in a rare moment of agreement in the hard-fought campaign, the woman fighting to take the mayor's job away from him says she would also press the province to provide money for the emergency shelters.

"City staff are telling me there is still a need for these shelters," said Councillor Suzanne Anton.

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That's even though her Non-Partisan Association has repeatedly attacked the mayor for his initiative to create more winter shelter spaces, saying he should have pushed for permanent housing instead.

The question of how to tackle homelessness and how to create affordable housing has been a central theme in the campaign.

Vision Vancouver is promoting a plan that relies on incentives for developers and discounted city land to create new units at lower prices. Ms. Anton's NPA is saying it can create more middle-range housing by streamlining the development process at city hall.

Mr. Robertson did introduce one new idea that even some of the party's critics have said is a good one: a city registry for bad landlords, where prospective tenants could look up an address and see what kinds of problems the residence has had in the past.

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