Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A regional response to reducing homelessness in Metro Vancouver

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Metro Vancouver has been climbing over the last decade. The Metro Vancouver Regional District estimates that 4,000 people are in immediate need of housing now, and that number will only continue to grow.

Reducing homelessness is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the most economically prudent thing to do. When someone is homeless, it costs taxpayers on average $55,000 per year in local and regional resources. It cost $37,000 to provide that same person housing annually, a significant savings.

In Langley City, we’ve seen both an increase in the number of people who are experiencing homelessness in our community, and an increase in the direct financial cost of homelessness to the City’s bottom line.

One municipality cannot reduce homelessness alone. Reducing homelessness is a regional challenge, and will take local governments working together with the provincial and federal governments to tackle.

As I posted about earlier, Metro Vancouver launched a Regional Homelessness Task Force late last year. The regional district just released the results of that task force with the following recommendations.

  1. Preventing pathways into homeless:
    • The development and implementation of comprehensive federal and provincial poverty reduction strategies, with alignment between both.
    • The improvement and expansion of home care for chronic health issues, mental illness and addictions.
    • The establishment of transitional supported-living programs for youth aging out of foster care / child welfare system.
    • The expansion of programs to meet the need for holistic and culturally safe support services to assist Aboriginal individuals and families in securing and maintaining housing.
    • The establishment of discharge planning programs to ensure subsidized or market housing on release from incarceration.
    • An increase in the supply of rental housing that is affordable to households with incomes below $30,000 per year.
  2. Serving people who are homeless:
    • An increase in the shelter component of income assistance to reflect average market rents.
    • The provision of additional transitional housing units to meet the need.
  3. Fostering pathways out of homelessness:
    • The improvement and expansion of appropriate, accessible and timely communication and information about available shelter services.
    • The provision of additional social housing units to eliminate the waitlist in the region.
    • The implementation of a coordinated access and assessment approach in which all agencies adopt a standardized approach, and information and data is centralized and harmonized.
    • An increase in the affordable rental housing supply, including through supporting retention of existing affordable rental units, as well as through supporting the construction of new units.

As the number of people who are experiencing homelessness is continuing to grow, it is clear that the current systems in place aren’t working as well as they could. For example, the following chart shows the breadth of agencies that could play a role in reducing homelessness in Metro Vancouver.

Agencies involved in addressing homelessness in Metro Vancouver. Source: Metro Vancouver. Select image to enlarge.

Many of these agencies work in silos with narrow scopes of authority. A holistic systems approach is required. The following graphic from the new regional plan shows how this could work.

An example of a holistic systems approached to reducing homelessness as proposed by the Metro Vancouver Regional District. Source: Metro Vancouver. Select image to enlarge.

The Metro Vancouver Homeless Count will occur on March 7th and 8th. The regional district is expecting the number of people who are experiencing homelessness to be significantly higher than in previous years.

Reducing homelessness is a serious challenge in Metro Vancouver. With all levels of government working in a coordinated manner, the number of people who are experiencing homelessness can be reduced. I hope this latest report from Metro Vancouver will lead to continued action.

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