Vancouver backs away from goal of ending street homelessness by 2015

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is admitting his ambitious goal to end street homelessness by 2015 may no longer be possible.

In a telephone townhall on the day he announced his campaign for re-election, Robertson said that delayed housing projects with other levels of government had made meeting that goal difficult.

When asked for further comment, Robertson told Global News that ending street homelessness was “one of Vancouver’s most urgent and pressing challenges” – but said more funding from other levels of government was required.

“Nearly 500 people have moved from shelters into permanent housing, but there’s still important work to do that will require significantly more investment from our partners in other levels of government. We’ve got an action plan and I want to see it through. The NPA’s ‘let the market decide’ approach would result in a disastrous reversal of our progress in building a Vancouver for everyone, and we can’t afford to go back.”

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Robertson’s implied blame of the provincial government drew a sharp response from Housing Minister Rich Coleman on Unfiltered on BC1.

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“I’ve never heard a negative word from Gregor to my face saying we are unhappy,” says Coleman. “I would say we have the most successful housing strategy for a province and city in Canadian history.”

“We bought 24 buildings for affordable housing plus 14 sites for new social housing, creating 1,500 units. The total investment in Vancouver is over half a billion dollars, plus $120 million a year in operating costs. Plus we have funded the tripling of shelter space.”

When he was first elected in 2008, Robertson set out a goal of ending homelessness in the city, with a specific platform pledge of ending street homelessness by 2015.

During his second term, he and Vision Vancouver have stayed committed to that pledge, saying the city had a “real shot” at reaching their goal during last month’s homeless count. The city has taken a variety of measures to get people off the street, including providing emergency shelters and interim housing, and helping people keep their homes through measures including a Rent Bank. NPA councillor George Affleck says it was his party, the NPA, that laid the groundwork for the new social housing buildings now coming on stream in Vancouver.

“The NPA provided the 14 sites to the province in 2007,” he says. “Vision can’t take credit for those sites — the majority of the numbers of homeless going down can be attributed to the NPA’s decision to hand over those sites.”

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Robertson’s first re-election campaign poster was unveiled yesterday.

It says taking Vancouver “to the next level” means in “getting the Broadway Subway built, taking a strong stand against the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and continuing our work on homelessness and building a diverse economy.”

Municipal elections aren’t until November 15, leaving plenty of time for the issue to be debated.

“We need to build a city where none of our fellow residents are ever forced to sleep on the street,” says Robertson, “and I will not back down in working towards that goal.”

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