BURNABY, B.C. –A task force says there are more than 70 homeless camps in Metro Vancouver, as it estimates about 4,000 people are in immediate need of housing.
The region’s task force said Monday there is a homeless crisis in every corner of Metro Vancouver, where the number of homeless people living outside shelters has jumped 26-per-cent annually since 2011.
The task force calculates five people become homeless across the region every week and a further 60,000 households are vulnerable to homelessness because more than half their income is spent on shelter.
The group, which includes Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, wants all provincial political parties to agree to open 1,000 units of transitional housing across the region this year and a further 1,000 units a year in 2018 and 2019.
It said the number of people who are homeless has increased steadily over the past 15 years. The crisis has been caused by gaps in social services for people with chronic health issues, mental illness or addictions, which have been exacerbated by rising in rents, house prices and the cost of living, the task force added.
“The homelessness crisis in Metro Vancouver has reached a state of emergency, and the status quo has failed to prevent growth in the number of homeless people year after year throughout the region,” Robertson said in a statement.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said research conducted by the group reveals a “complete system-wide failure” to assist the most vulnerable.
The task force said responding to the demands of a homeless person costs taxpayers $55,000 annually, compared with $37,000 per person to house them.
“The provincial government has the responsibility and resources to better manage this crisis, in collaboration with the federal and local governments,” said Read, who serves as co-chair of the task force with Robertson.
Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for housing, said the report does not take into account the numerous efforts underway across Metro Vancouver to find housing for people.
“Everybody’s working really hard and will continue to do that, and that report itself misses all of that,” he said in Victoria.
Coleman also accused Robertson of playing politics rather than working as a team to find more homes and shelters for vulnerable people in Metro Vancouver.
“I’m actually sad in a way because I’ve never politicized homelessness, mental health and addictions. I never will, but today he did,” said Coleman. “He was an NDP member of the legislature. I can only assume he’s still NDP and an NDP mayor.”
Robertson was elected to the B.C. legislature in 2005 and stepped down in 2008 before running to become mayor of Vancouver. He declined comment on Coleman’s remarks through his office.
The task force is recommending that the provincial and federal governments work with local municipalities and community agencies to implement a plan by the end of 2017.
It has identified 12 key priorities that it wants action on including developing a provincewide poverty reduction strategy, establishing more transitional housing for foster youth, providing home care for those with mental illness and addictions, and increasing the number of affordable and social housing units for the working poor.