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Minister Coleman lacks evidence for homeless claim: NDP critic

If the minister responsible for housing, Rich Coleman, is going to claim homelessness is dropping across British Columbia, he should provide some evidence, says NDP housing critic Shane Simpson.

"Homeless numbers have gone down across the province," the Globe and Mail quoted Coleman saying in an Oct. 12 article. "Things are really improving, dramatically as far as I'm concerned . . . You can't find another jurisdiction in North America where homeless numbers are down."

But when asked what evidence there is that homelessness is dropping across the province, a ministry spokesperson said, "The minister is referring to the 2011 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count -- which indicated that the number of street homeless in the City of Vancouver has declined by 82 [percent] since the last count in 2008 -- to 145 street homeless from 815."

The spokesperson did not respond to two follow up emails asking about how, or whether, the province assesses homelessness levels outside the Lower Mainland.

"The count in the rest of the province is the minister taking a Vancouver number and trying to extrapolate that across the province without having much to back it up," said the NDP's Simpson, the MLA for Vancouver-Hastings.

"I think it's a bit premature for the minister to say we've solved the problem, which is largely what he's trying to claim," he said. "If they're going to make these claims . . . he should base this on some kind of evidence."

Even the Vancouver count showed the province has a long way to go, Simpson said. While the number of people living on the street was down, largely thanks to temporary shelters, the overall number of homeless people had dropped little, he said.

And the province will be funding fewer shelters in Vancouver this winter, cutting the funding for four that provided beds for 160 people last year.

Outside the Lower Mainland and Victoria there appears to be "very minimal" attempts to learn how many people are homeless, Simpson said.

"My expectation is we have very little other than what's anecdotal for people working in those communities," he said. "If they're going to claim success against measurement, they probably should invest something in doing that."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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