Metro Vancouver’s economy is experiencing unprecedented growth, while rates of working poverty and homelessness remain among Canada’s highest. 60,000 households in the region currently spend more than half of their income on shelter. An estimated 4,000 people in the region have an immediate need for housing, and are currently living on the streets, in their cars, in homeless camps, parks and forests, or in a temporary shelter. Approximately 5 people become homeless within Metro Vancouver each week, based on recent trends of 6% annual growth in the regional homeless population. The incidence of homelessness in Metro Vancouver has increased annually over the past 15 years, and has now reached a state of crisis. It is anticipated that Metro Vancouver’s 2017 Homeless Count, set for March 7-8, will quantify an exponential increase in the numbers. The need for systemic improvements to effectively manage the crisis is urgent.
Homelessness is a symptom of other underlying problems. An estimated 80% of homeless people suffer a chronic health issue. 49% have an addiction and 34% suffer from mental illness. 31% of homeless people are of First Nations descent (whereas First Nations comprise 3% of the overall regional population). An estimated 40% of homeless people were previously in foster care, and 40% have previously been in the criminal justice system. 70% of homeless people report past trauma or abuse.
Homelessness is a region-wide problem, impacting all communities from downtown Vancouver to suburban and rural areas within Metro Vancouver. Homelessness impacts all residents, regardless of income status, who live and work beside people suffering on the streets, in tent cities, and in temporary shelters, or who, with 60,000 households in working poverty in the region, may themselves be in a position of high vulnerability to becoming homeless. There is also a financial cost of homelessness to taxpayers, estimated $55,000 annually per homeless person and over $200M/year combined within the region. Local governments are expending extraordinary resources to deal with the rising homeless population and community impacts.
Homelessness in Metro Vancouver must also be approached as a provincial and national issue, recognizing that the region has become a catchment area for other parts of the country with fewer economic opportunities and potentially less access to services and shelter. Blocking pathways into homelessness means not only addressing its root causes within Metro Vancouver, but also across British Columbia and Canada through partnership and collaboration across jurisdictions.
The purpose of this Position Paper is to identify the contributing factors that have led to the current homelessness crisis within the Metro Vancouver region, supported by the available data collected through the leadership of the Regional Homelessness Task Force and a review of best practices. The paper has been structured using a Conceptual Framework as a foundation for the development of recommendations and actions that are focused on clear and effective strategies to prevent homelessness, to serve people who are currently homeless, and to create pathways out of homelessness.