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Vancouver councillors want city to declare a homelessness emergency

Click to play video: 'Housing for Oppenheimer Park’s homeless' Housing for Oppenheimer Park’s homeless
The Portland Hotel Society has been tasked with finding housing for homeless campers at Oppenheimer Park. Senior Manager Duncan Higgon explains how they plan to go about moving people out of the park – Feb 1, 2020

Two Vancouver city councillors are calling on their colleagues to declare a homelessness emergency in order to build a substantial amount of new housing.

In a motion set for council on Tuesday, councillors Jean Swanson and Pete Fry call on the rest of council to create an emergency plan with the provincial and federal governments, along with regional partners and other B.C. municipalities.

That plan should include finding and building housing for at least 80 per cent of the homeless people in Vancouver and other cities within three years, the motion says.

READ MORE: Vancouver homeless numbers rise to highest levels since 2002, latest count shows

“Really it’s an acknowledgement that we’re in a crisis situation, and what are we going to do to address it,” Fry said.

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“This is really prioritizing the idea of making an action plan and working across government and breaking down silos to really get the work done.”

The motion also calls for the housing goal to be incorporated into the city’s existing housing and homelessness strategy.

READ MORE: Ottawa city council declares housing, homelessness emergency

Vancouver’s most recent homeless count identified 2,223 people without a home in Vancouver, marking the highest number since the survey began in 2002.

The 2019 survey was the fourth year in a row that has seen an increase, despite a recent push from council to address homelessness in the city.

Swanson and Fry’s motion counts 7,655 people who identify as homeless across B.C.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver’s homeless numbers rise' Vancouver’s homeless numbers rise
Vancouver’s homeless numbers rise – Jun 13, 2019

It also highlights long wait times and a lack of available housing in buildings operated by BC Housing. Swanson has repeatedly raised the issue of landlords raising rents for single-room occupancy hotels, a practice mentioned in the motion.

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The councillors say Vancouver should follow the lead of Ottawa, whose city council unanimously declared a homelessness emergency last month.

“The circumstances and extent of homelessness in Vancouver constitute a crisis and emergency situation,” the motion reads.

Fry says the motion is also intended to send a message to the province through the Union of BC Municipalities.

READ MORE: Report calls for B.C. plan to end youth homelessness, informed by youth themselves

If the motion is passed as written, the city will call on the union to declare a province-wide homelessness emergency with the same housing goals. It also directs staff to prepare a declaration for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to try and get a federal emergency passed.

“This is really to galvanize some support and recognize that we need help from other orders of government,” Fry said.

“As I talk to my colleagues in smaller communities, this is a huge issue for them as well, and they have even less resources than we do … and are struggling a lot more with it.”

Click to play video: 'Province to build two ‘navigation centres’ for homeless based on California model' Province to build two ‘navigation centres’ for homeless based on California model
Province to build two ‘navigation centres’ for homeless based on California model – Feb 19, 2020

The homeless crisis in Vancouver has recently centred on Oppenheimer Park, where a tent city has grown again despite efforts to move campers into housing.

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The Portland Hotel Society has been contracted by BC Housing to help steer more people towards housing, and are currently working with campers and others in the Downtown Eastside.

The city has thrown its efforts into building modular housing, and has recently introduced middle-income housing as another step towards the regular rental market.

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