This week I’m attending the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities Convention. Local government official, local government staff, MLAs, and provincial staff have gathered in Victoria to discussion issues and solutions for communities throughout the provinces. This is the first time I’ve attended the UBCM Convention. On Tuesday morning, I was in a session call “Tent Cities and Homelessness.”
This session included presenters sharing how they responded to the increase in people experiencing homelessness, tent cities, as well as the tools and resources they have used to take action to reduce homelessness and eliminate tent cities.
The session started with a talk from Rich Coleman who is the Minster Responsible for Housing. He stated that the provincial government believed it was on the path to reducing homelessness throughout the province, but because of challenging economic conditions in other provinces, people who had limited job skill were moving to BC only to find no work, ending up homeless.
He said that the province has been a leader in building housing to get people out of homelessness, and that it has only been possible because of all levels of government and non-government agencies working together to get people out of homelessness.
Dominic Flanagan who is the Executive Director for BC Housing reiterated this later during the sessions; Minister Coleman stated that tent cities are a barrier to getting people the help they need and should not be seen under any circumstance as a good thing.
When people end up on the street, fast action is necessary to get people the help they need. Minister Coleman stated that the province is willing to do its part to fund supportive housing, but it needs the support of local government to provide the zoning and political will to make it happen.
James Yardley who is a lawyer form Murdy & McAllister provided the legal context on why people are allowed to camp in park in municipalities throughout BC. The City of Langley prepared FAQ and background documents which cover much on the content that was covered by Yardley.
One of the observation he pointed out was that the court appears willing to allow municipalities to enforce “no camping” provisions only if there is enough low-barrier housing in a community. Interestingly enough, the courts never defined what is “enough” nor if community meant municipal boundaries or a section of a region. For example, if the Township of Langley had low-barrier housing available, would that housing count towards low-barrier housing in Langley City. Homelessness doesn’t stop at a municipal boundaries in our region.
Mayor Lisa Helps from the City of Victoria as well as Greg Steves who is the Assistant Deputy Mister of the Office of Housing and Construction Standards talked about the tent city in Victoria which was recently in the news.
|Mayor Lisa Helps from the City of Victoria presenting on Tent City.|
Helps noted that since the 1990s, the federal government has cut per capita funding for public/affordable housing in half. She said this is one of the reasons why there has been a homelessness and affordable housing crisis in Canada.
Helps and Steves noted that building strong relationships was the key to getting people out of the Victoria tent city and into supportive housing. Municipality/provincial collaboration was critical to the success of the removal of the tent city, and equally important was the relationship built with people who were camping. Because of the relationship built with the campers, the government was able to work to get people into housing in a positive way without needing to use a “heavy hand.”
When it comes to building supportive housing, Helps stated that it was critical to listen to, and address the concerns of residents about supportive housing in their neighbourhoods. She noted that because of the relationships they built with residents, they were able to build supportive housing with community buy-in. In fact, the community is now happy with the positive impact both temporary shelters and permanent supportive housing has had in their neighbourhoods.
Mayor Nicole Read from Maple Ridge talked about her experience with getting people out of tents and into housings. Some of the highlights from her presentation was the need to combat the cycle of shame and stigma around homelessness. She also noted that women’s needs have to be considered when it comes to supportive housing, and that is currently missing. Mayor Read stated that homelessness is a symptom, and that more focus needs to be placed upstream including helping young people out and people with mental health issues before they are homeless.
Mayor Peter Milobar from Kamloops said that his City has an Affordable Housing Reserve Fund which they contribute at least $50,000 per year into. This funding is used to support affordable rental housing, transitional housing, supportive housing, and emergency shelters in their community.
Reducing homelessness takes the support of all levels of government, non-profit organizations, and local residents in a community. It was really encouraging to see that other cities have been successful in reducing homelessness, and getting people into housing with the required support to lift them out of the poverty.