Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Allowing temporary shelters for people to sleep in parks is not a solution

Reducing the amount of people experiencing homelessness in Langley has been a top-of-mind desire for people in the community, including myself. Reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness has also become a priority for local governments throughout BC.

In the past, some local governments “eliminated” people experiencing homelessness by strong-arming people out of a community. The end result was that people experiencing homelessness were shifted to other communities. This can't happen anymore.

Last fall, the BC Supreme Court released the decision Abbotsford (City) v Shantz, 2015 BCSC 1909 (“Shantz”). Fulton & Company LLP provides a good overview of the case, and what its means for local governments in BC.

In a nutshell, local governments in BC must allow people experiencing homelessness to setup temporary shelters somewhere on municipality-owned public land between 7:00pm and 9:00am. These shelters must be taken down during the day. Local government must also likely ensure that these temporary shelter locations are sanitary and secure. All combined, this puts a strain on limited local government resources.

Temporary shelters must be allowed until there is enough shelter beds in a community for people experiencing homelessness.

The fact that the number of people experiencing homelessness is on the rise is a symptom of chronic issues with our health care system and social safety net.

For example, when the provincial government decided to close-down most of Riverview Hospital, people at the hospital were supposed to be transitioned to smaller, community-based facilities. Successive provincial governments failed to provide adequate beds, or build the required number of facilities. Some people with mental health issues end up on the street because of inadequate provincial support.

Local governments receives about 10% of all taxation collected. The provincial and federal government have the mandate to ensure that people’s health needs are being met, and that permanent housing is available to every Canadian.

Local governments, like the City of Langley, have a role to play as facilitators and advocates for people experiencing homelessness to get permanent housing. Local governments must also ensure that affordable housing policies are embedded into official community plans, zoning, and the development permitting process.

But when it comes to funding health care, supportive housing, and some types of affordable housing, the provincial and federal governments need to show leadership.

I’m happy that the federal government has decided to become a larger partner in providing funding for supportive and affordable housing. Will the provincial government play a larger role in funding mental healthcare, supportive housing, and affordable housing?

We can do better as a province and a country than allowing people to camp out in municipal parks as a “solution”.

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