Thursday, March 22, 2018

The number of homeless seniors has doubled over the last decade in Metro Vancouver. There are solutions to reverse this trend.

When you think about homelessness in our region, what mental image do you have of a person who is experiencing homelessness? For many people, it is likely that of a middle-aged person, or maybe even a younger person. What about the following picture?

An image of a senior. Source: Seniors Services Society Presentation

While seniors (people who are 55+) have always experienced homelessness in our region, the number of seniors who are experiencing homelessness has more than doubled over the last decade.

Homeless Population (55+) Number Percent of Homeless Population
2008 212 9%
2011 268 16%
2014 371 18%
2017 556 23%

Seniors Services Society recently delivered a presentation to the Metro Vancouver Regional District’s Housing Committee about seniors who are experiencing homelessness.

The rising cost of living, especially the rapid increase in rent, is causing seniors to become homeless. According to Seniors Services Society, over 90% of people 60+ who experience homelessness have never experienced homelessness in their past. Plainly, there simply aren’t enough affordable and safe housing units for seniors.

At the same time, many seniors have secondary factor which increase their risk of experiencing homelessness such as:

  • Physical or mental health problems
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Depleted finances
  • Not knowing what to do when faced with prospect of moving
  • Victims of violence, abuse and discrimination
  • Isolation

What can be done to reverse this trend of increasing homelessness amount seniors? Seniors Services Society noted that the federal National Housing Strategy is a good start, and that together with the provincial government through BC Housing, seniors housing projects can start to get built. At the end of the day, the federal government and provincial government must work together to fund and set policies to rapidly expand the number of affordable housing units.

Another area that needs to be addressed is to increase the number of temporary shelter spaces for seniors.

Local governments have a role to play as well. We can put policies in place that lower the barrier to building affordable housing. These polices can include waving development and permit fees, and by accelerating processing times and inspections. Municipalities can also ensure that zoning is in place to support affordable housing, and will support rezoning for new affordable housing units.

Another role of local government is to act as a coordination point, bring together all levels of governments, non-profits, and residents. This is why Langley City is working to hiring a social planner.

Reducing homelessness is possible, and I’m hopeful that the renewed interest by all levels of government to tackle this issue will result in people of all ages and incomes being able to have a place to call home.

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