News / Vancouver

Street homelessness doubles in Vancouver

The number of people sleeping on Vancouver’s streets soared over the past 12 months while homelessness remained fairly stable across the rest of Metro Vancouver.

Almost twice as many people – 538 compared to 273 in 2013 – had no shelter in Vancouver on March 12, the day of the 2014 Metro Vancouver homeless count.

The 24-hour snapshot of those without a home, conducted every three years in Metro Vancouver and every year in Vancouver, aims to count people sleeping on the streets and in shelters, hospital beds, jails, detox facilities or safe houses. It underestimates the total number of homeless people, but provides important trend information.

Volunteers found 2,770 people without homes across the region, a slight increase from the 2,650 counted in 2011. Only Vancouver and the North Shore had more people sleeping outdoors.

“We've stemmed that rapid increase we saw in the mid 2000s,” said Deb Bryant of the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness at a news conference. “The picture isn't fabulous, but at least we’re sort of holding.”

The same can’t be said for Vancouver, where 1,798 people were without homes in 2014 after about six years of the number remaining steady around 1,600.

Mayor Gregor Robertson, who campaigned in the 2011 election with a promise to end street homelessness by 2015, was frustrated to see the numbers. The city and the province have spent millions buying housing for people at 14 B.C. Housing sites and a few interim housing locations.

“It’s disconcerting to see the number back up this year,” Robertson said. “This should be a catalyst – it needs to wake all of us up, and the provincial and federal government to step up with us and make sure we can bring that number right down to zero for next winter.”

He blamed the increase on delays in the opening of B.C. Housing sites, fewer winter shelter beds and renovictions from single room occupancy hotels.

But about 600 units are expected to open at five remaining B.C. Housing sites before December, so Robertson is hopeful the numbers will drop next year. He remains “steadfastly committed to making sure every citizen can get off the streets at night” despite this year’s setbacks.

He credited a “strong partnership” with the province and Minister of Housing Rich Coleman for improvements since 2008 and called for commitments for more buildings or a more robust rent supplement program.

Robertson also called on the federal government to continue with the At Home/Chez Soi program, a study that provided housing first for people with mental illnesses.

The count also found a disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people without home. Nearly one third of the number of homeless people identified as Aboriginal, compared with about 2 per cent of the general population.

This brought an emotional response from Patrick Stewart of the Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee.

“I'm no politician, but in a country as rich as Canada there's no need to have people living on the street,” he said, calling for a federal solution and culturally appropriate permanent housing.

In the meantime, however, people are getting turned away every night because the beds are full at the Aboriginal shelter near Science World.