Eight years ago, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson promised to end homelessness in his city by 2015.
Yet on just one cold evening last month, 36 people seeking a bed in emergency shelters run by Union Gospel Mission were turned away, facing shivering in a doorway or on a park bench.
The mission’s Jeremy Hunka says its maxed-out shelters have been forced to turn away 1,545 people in the first nine months of this year — almost 25 per more than last year. “That hits you in the heart,” he said.
In fact, Vancouver homelessness is at record levels.
And the picture is not much different across the rest of British Columbia. As many as 15,000 people are without homes in the province. And homeless deaths spiked 70 per cent in the last reported year.
In a city and province so prosperous, why are so many people deprived of safe homes? And what can we do next — or do differently?
The Tyee and Megaphone Magazine have partnered to try and answer those questions in a new series investigating the solutions to homelessness in this province and across Canada.
The first piece in the series, examining the controversial role of tent cities in the housing crisis, launched today on The Tyee and in Megaphone, a monthly magazine sold by homeless and low-income vendors on the streets of Vancouver and Victoria.
With more than 10,000 individuals and families waiting for a place in BC Housing, we decided it was time to look at some things governments could do right away, before slow-to-appear new supported shelter finally gets built. We’ll discover policies that have significantly reduced chronic homelessness elsewhere, ways to keep people from becoming homeless to start with, what a “home” really needs to feel adequate to those without shelter, and how to think differently about “public” space to make room for homeless neighbours.
We were inspired by a collaboration in San Francisco, where newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations checked their competitive instincts for one day of co-ordinated coverage on the city’s homelessness crisis.
“We are all fed up,” Jon Steinberg, the editor in chief of San Francisco Magazine, told the New York Times. “We feel there is not enough movement and accountability on the issue.”
We’re fed up, too. And we’re focused on finding solutions.
So when we realized The Tyee and Megaphone were both fundraising to support reporting projects on homelessness, we decided to join forces to do the best work we could.
The result will be six months of in-depth, investigative work, reported by Megaphone’s Stefania Seccia and edited by Tyee Solutions’ Chris Wood. We’ll look at what could be done to make real progress on homelessness, from prevention to innovative housing solutions.
There are few easy answers, and solutions are beyond the power of a municipal government, as Robertson painfully learned. Reducing homelessness requires co-ordinated action from all levels of government, with the support of communities and citizens.
Our project will take a fresh look at the problem, sharing bold experiments and the brightest ideas in Canada and from beyond our borders.
It all starts today.
And that’s thanks to the individuals and organizations who supported this series, including the 250 donors who gave to Megaphone’s spring 2016 crowdfunding drive, as well as the funders of The Tyee’s 2016-17 Housing Fix project: Vancity Credit Union, Catherine Donnelly Foundation and the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., in collaboration with Columbia Institute.
Read more: Housing