City holding the line on homelessness, but senior governments need to step up

With Vancouver’s fight against homelessness nearly four years old, it’s clear that Mayor Gregor Robertson’s drive to eliminate street homelessness by 2015 is using the right tools.

As city outreach worker Judy Graves told council today, it’s “something miraculous”  that street homelessness has stopped growing, even declined slightly in the past three years, despite population growth and increasing poverty.

A rent bank, a rental database, programs to help hoarders remain in their homes and many other initiatives, especially the shelter program, are having an impact.

The construction of 630 of about 1300 planned new housing units —   14 sites on city land with buildings funded by the province — is creating a long-term solution for many homeless people.

Even though the capital cost of the program will near $250 million and operating costs can be as high as $1 million per building per year, it’s clear that housing people is cheaper than homelessness.

But as Councillor Kerry Jang told me, those savings could be even larger if homeless people found support sooner, before they become addicted or physically ill, “the sickest of the sick.”

It’s clear the problem can be solved, but much more is needed from provincial and federal governments to achieve the goal.

“It’s good to see we’ve been able to turn the tide,” Robertson told council, “but we’re not seeing homelessness drop at the pace we expected.”

“While grateful for the contributions received already, Robertson warned that “have to have more support from our provincial and federal governments” to get the job done.