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Robertson calls for post-Olympic homeless count

Mayor Gregor Robertson wants to tighten the city's plan to end homelessness, and has called for a spring homeless count to help the city track its progress -- or lack thereof.

"If we want to achieve our goal of ending street homelessness in Vancouver by 2015, we need a clear plan that tracks our progress," Robertson said in a release. "We need a homeless count specific to Vancouver, an annual progress report on homelessness with clear metrics, and a long-term plan that reflects the current economic climate."

Robertson will introduce a motion to council today that calls for revisions to the city’s Homeless Action Plan, which Robertson described as insufficient during his 2008 campaign against former Councillor Peter Ladner.

The Vision Vancouver motion calls for an annual report card on "the state of street homelessness," which would include results of an annual homeless count.

The first annual count would be conducted next month, with results to be made public in April.

"We want a count that's focuses within the city boundaries," Councillor Kerry Jang told The Tyee.

Jang, who will second Robertson's motion, said the council was bothered by the fact that previous counts have varied so widely.

"It you've got a standard error of 100 or 200 people per estimate, well, that's a lot of people," Jang said. "We need a more detailed count, with data for every neighbourhood."

Jang acknowledged the timeline would be tough on city staff, much of which has been seconded to Olympic duties during February. The city has not previously managed a citywide homeless count. Rather, previous counts were conducted by a contactor, on a regional basis, every third year. The March 2008 one-day count found about 2,592 people living without homes in Metro Vancouver, and was regarded as an undercount.

But Jang, who also works as a mental health researcher at UBC, said the value of a post-Olympic count would be worth the effort.

"One of the things we want to learn is what sort of impact the Olympic games have had on our homeless population," Jang said.

"I really want to know if these games do displace people. There's been debate around that question for years. I think this will be one of the best chances researchers will get to learn the answer to that question, to really know what sort of impact an event like this has on the homeless," he said.

"I'm getting a lot of calls from folks saying that homeless are leaving the city," he added.

Jang noted that some of the most chronic homeless individuals move from one municipality to the next on a frequent basis, and acknowledged that there's little way of knowing whether or not that group will be within the city boundary on the day of the count. He said there are no plans to invite Burnaby, Richmond, Surrey or the North Shore to conduct local counts on the same day.

The Vision Vancouver motion also asks that the revised Homeless Action Plan:

• Addresses the constraints of the changing economic climate;

• Outlines options for interim solutions for street homelessness;

• Provides realistic options to achieve the goal of ending street homelessness in Vancouver by 2015;

• Provides options for optimizing City real estate and assets that can strategically leverage funding from other orders of government, private donors and investors for solutions for street homelessness;

• Creates a plan for an annual progress report card on the state of street homelessness to the public that includes results of an annual count and relevant metrics;

• Provides options for encouraging citizen engagement in supporting homeless individuals by expanding such initiatives as Homeless Action Week, Homeless Connect events and the Mayor’s Multi Faith Advisory Group on Homelessness;

• Ensures that bylaws, regulations and enforcement policies that relate to individuals who are street homeless provide for their maximum safety and are in alignment with current statutes and relevant case law; and

• Provides options for optimizing social development grants to foster and support local community-based solutions tailored to ending street homelessness within individual neighbourhoods.

"We're asking for a revised plan as quickly as possible. It won't all be ready by April, but I suspect that good chunks of it will be," Jang said.

The city hopes to have parts of this plan in place before April 30, when provincial funding for most of the city-run homeless shelters is due to expire.

"We're working on plans for some interim housing. But I suspect we may still have a lot of folks who are not going to be accommodated," Jang said.

"Homelessness will not end when the Olympics are done," Jang said. "And neither will our efforts to end it."

Monte Paulsen reports for The Tyee.

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