For one blessed moment in our city, the finger pointing over homelessness has stopped.
It may not last long, but in the past week both Gordon Campbell and Sam Sullivan have stepped up to the plate and made serious, considered commitments to deal with the scandal of homelessness among the most vulnerable and mentally-ill members of our society.
Just last week, Gordon Campbell announced he would be funding increases to the shelter allowance component for income assistance, the first time since 1994 that this has happened.
The shelter allowance currently sits at $325 per month – an almost impossible figure to find a place to live, at least in downtown Vancouver. The new provincial budget will increase that number. It still won’t be luxurious, but hopefully it will be enough for those on welfare to find a safe place to lay their heads.
Welfare recipients may have to share an apartment, or move further out of the city core, but at least they won’t be choosing between food and a bed.
Another important question is what to do with the severely mentally ill individuals who, when removed from institutional care under the NDP, stumbled into the clutches of drug dealers and pimps.
Part of the solution for these people is new non-market housing. The City of Vancouver has 500 units on the way, scattered between a number of hotel conversions, Woodward’s and South East False Creek. These have been funded in partnership with the provincial government, the Vancouver Coast Health Authority and private developers.
Quite honestly, we also need to selectively re-institutionalize our sickest. If my son or daughter were living on the streets in filthy conditions and strung out on crack, I would be happy to commit them against their will and fight about their free choice after the fact.
I would hope there isn’t a parent in Vancouver who feels differently.
In addition to the commitment by the city to purchase a new SRO each year – this year’s is on Carroll Street – Councilor Kim Capri will be asking Council to approve “fast-tracking” three downtown sites earmarked for non-market housing and additional emergency housing funds from the province.
She is also asking for relaxation of the regulations governing the size of social housing units. The rules in Vancouver stand far and above those in the rest of the province, making them just too expensive to build.
People just need roofs over their heads – not 500 square foot mini-condos.
Vancouver’s Homeless Action Plan and the Housing Plan are an excellent first step, as is additional funding for emergency shelter and increases to the base shelter allowance.
Sam Sullivan has also called a shelter roundtable to convene in two weeks.
Here’s hoping that the leadership on this issue will continue and the finger pointing become a distant memory.
As Seen this Thursday, November 2nd in 24 Hours