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Homelessness costs BC taxpayers up to $1 billion a year

BC’s Homeless Action Week ends this weekend. Unfortunately, homelessness itself will not. Here’s a quick review of the facts that British Columbians live with every day.

10,000-15,000 homeless in BC

No province-wide homeless count has ever been conducted. So researchers have cobbled together province-wide estimates. In late 2007, a researcher working for the New Democratic Party solicited numbers from every homeless shelter in the province, then compiled those figures to reach a province-wide total of 10,000 homeless. In early 2008, team of independent academic researchers working with the Centre For Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA) at Simon Fraser University released a study pegging the province-wide total at 15,000 homeless. Anecdotal interviews with shelter operators and outreach workers suggest that B.C.’s homeless population grew larger between 2007 and 2009.

To put those figures in context, consider this: If there are 10,000 homeless in B.C., that’s more homeless than the total population of Whistler. Or, put another way, that’s two homeless British Columbians for every athlete participating in the 2010 Winter Games.

$1 billion a year in taxes

Homeless individuals tend to be heavy users of police, ambulance, hospital and other emergency services. The Vancouver Police Department estimated that as many as a third of all its emergency calls are related to untreated mental illness and/or addiction, much of which is rooted within that city’s large homeless and under-housed population.

The aforementioned SFU study found that it costs at least $55,000 a year to service a homeless person on the streets. A more comprehensive estimate conducted for the Calgary Homeless Foundation concluded that the total cost was $135,000 per person, per year.

(The cost of a unit of supportive housing, by comparison, is about $37,000 a year.)

To put those figures in context, consider this: If there are 10,000 homeless people in British Columbia, and if each costs taxpayers a median of $100,000 a year, then British Columbia taxpayers are spending a billion dollars a year to maintain street homelessness. Put another way, for the past few years, B.C. taxpayers have probably spent more money servicing the homeless than they spent preparing for the Olympics -- even after the Sea-to-Sky Highway, the Canada Line and the new Vancouver Convention Centre are considered.

Death every 12 days

A homeless person dies every 12 days in B.C., according to the BC Coroners Service.

The coroners service counted an average of 32 homeless deaths a year from 2006 through 2008. The average age at death was 45 year. The five leading causes of death among the homeless were: Natural disease, drug poisoning, blunt injuries, hanging, and drowning,

For the purpose of these statistics, an individual was considered homeless if they were known to be living ‘rough’ or on the street, staying at an emergency shelter, or being provided temporary (30 days or less) shelter by friends or family. Individuals in long‐term shelters, residential drug or alcohol treatment facilities, or those staying with friends or family on a long‐term or indefinite basis, were excluded.

Monte Paulsen reports for The Tyee.

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