Entry #5: Vancouver Homeless Crisis

Last modified on July 26th, 2008

I have lived in Vancouver most of my life. It is a city I hold dear to my heart, but a city that has, over time, grown cold to some of its inhabitants. My daily walk takes me from my apartment near Beach avenue in Vancouver, down across Yaletown, passing near Gastown, and into Vancouver’s business district. One thing that has become evident, especially in the last few years, is that the homeless crisis in Vancouver is reaching epidemic proportions, with many people forced to sleep on the street each and every night.

Vancouver Homelessness

Homelessness in Vancouver, photo by Eric Rudolph

I posted an entry over on matthewgood.org during the winter that discussed how the housing crisis will continue to worsen as the 2010 Olympics approach:

While Canada is experiencing a strong economy, anti-poverty advocates say that low welfare rates, lack of affordable housing, and low minimum wage are all contributing to an increase in homelessness. Toronto has the largest homeless population in the country at 5,052. Of those, 3,649 live in shelters while some 818 sleep outside.

Toronto has an average of two homeless deaths per week. These, according to Crowe, result from a multitude of causes: accidents, trauma, beatings, disease, hate crimes, and hypothermia. A vigil is held once a month for those who die on the streets.

Vancouver is not faring much better. A report released by Pivot Legal Society in September said the city is on the brink of a social housing crisis and called for action from all levels of government. The Downtown Eastside legal advocacy group predicts that Vancouver’s homeless population of 2,175 will triple by 2010 when the city hosts the Winter Olympics. [1]

Recently an observer from the United Nations came to visit various major cities in Canada to access the housing crisis. Upon reaching Vancouver, he made the following comments:

There is a deep homelessness problem here. I must say I was taken aback by the scale of the crisis here in the Downtown Eastside.

It’s glaringly apparent in Vancouver that for quite some time… successive governments have failed to create the housing that is necessary. You have a legacy of misguided government policy that has led to this massive crisis in housing and homelessness.

We didn’t hear this in other places. The decrepit nature of SROs, the conditions of the buildings that people are living in, very poor health…I was repeatedly struck by the contrast that I see because it is such a beautiful city, because there has been so much investment. It is striking that a few blocks from million-dollar condominiums, that there is such immense poverty.

There seems to be a disconnect between the economic policies in Vancouver and the social policies that need to be in place.

The last part of that quote is the most revealing. The problem of homelessness in this city comes about as a direct result of inadequate policies meant to address those very problems. It is a problem, I believe, that can be fixed, but only if we all work together to help build affordable housing, and to stop evicting people from low-income houses so that multi-million dollar condos can take their place.

This entry was written for Blogathon 2008, and in support of the Union Gospel Mission charity. If you’d like to donate to the cause, please visit the blogathon donation page and fill out the form near the middle. We have currently raised $210 for this cause, and my goal is to reach $1000 before the end of tomorrow night. You can also follow the blogathon RSS feed by clicking here.

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