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The Globe and Mail

Vancouver’s housing push pays off with marked decline in homelessness

Dave (first name only) a homeless panhandler asks for handouts on the conner Burrard St. and West Georgia St. in Vancouver January 4, 2011. A Snowfall Warning was issued for the low mainland for tonight and tomorrow morning.


Street homelessness in Vancouver has decreased by 62 per cent since 2008, according to a new report by the city.

The annual "report card" was prepared by the city's Housing and Homelessness strategy and presented to council Tuesday.

"[Vancouver has] been determined to make sure that there is a priority, at least in the public sector, that any subsidized or government-supported housing that is developed must house people that are street homeless," said Alice Sundberg, co-chair of the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness. The committee is a coalition of community organizations and governments in the Metro Vancouver area. "So that means that even though there are other people who are looking for housing, if they've got a roof over their heads, they are not considered to be in such high need. The city has really pushed that."

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Vancouver aims to eradicate street homelessness by 2015.

Tuesday's report card also showed 14 new supportive housing sites – affordable housing that also provides access to support staff – were in use in 2012, with 631 out of 1,507 units open by Dec. 31, 2012. Of those, 38 per cent were being used by those formerly living on the streets or in shelters.

Mayor Gregor Roberston wrote on his website Tuesday that "there's much more work to do, but it's encouraging to see such tremendous progress on the City's work to build new supportive housing, end street homelessness, and support Vancouver renters."

The city plans to develop 828 more social-housing units by 2014, the report card says, and hopes to lease four city-owned sites to create more affordable housing, or another 350 units.

While Ms. Sundberg says she thinks it's possible for the city to reach its targets, she points out that that's still not enough, and eradicating homelessness will take a much larger and sustained effort.

"The biggest challenge is really supplying affordable housing and that needs significant investment of dollars," she said. "And the federal government has really abdicated from any responsibility of providing affordable housing."

Ms. Sundberg said that while the city and the province have shown a willingness to contribute, they simply "can't do it alone."

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Even if the federal government didn't invest directly in grants, she said, they could still take steps such as encouraging the private sector to get more involved in helping to supply affordable housing.

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