Vancouver’s mayor and politicians from both the provincial and federal legislatures have sent a letter to the federal government calling for major funding to fight homelessness.
The letter, leaked this week, calls on Ottawa to enter into a 50-50 cost-sharing deal with the province to buy new housing stock and fund supportive housing.
“We support a strategy that includes all levels of government working collaboratively with the community to preserve, acquire, and build deeply affordable and supportive housing,” states the letter, addressed to Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen.
The letter is co-signed by Kennedy Stewart, BC NDP MLA Melanie Mark and federal NDP MP Jenny Kwan.
“Given the severity of the crisis, neither the City of Vancouver nor the province can address the challenge of homelessness alone.”
The letter makes specific reference to the Strathcona encampment, noting that the homeless residents moved to the site after they were evicted from Port of Vancouver federal land with no plan to house them.
It goes on to argue that the resources and timeline in the Liberals’ federal housing strategy is “deficient in meeting the urgent housing and homelessness crisis in our community.”
Vancouver city councillor Lisa Dominato said she supports the call, but said the money needs to come with a task force involving representatives from the city, province and federal government.
“I believe we have a fractured system, and what we need to focus on coordination at all levels, because all of these issues are interconnected,” she told Global News.
“The federal government role in terms of decriminalization of drugs, the provincial role in terms of health care, mental health and addictions treatments and options, as well as the municipal level in responding to concerns about our streets, both in terms of public safety and access to treatment options.”
While homelessness is visible and directly impacts cities, municipalities have little in the way of tax power, Dominato added.
Vancouver-Centre Liberal MP Dr. Hedy Fry said her government is “at the table,” and pointed to $2.2 billion the federal government made available for emergency shelters at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there is no rapid, “magic-bullet” solution to the complex intertwined issues of mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness, she said.
She pointed to the issue of tent city residents who don’t want the kind of housing being offered by government as an example.
“This is going to take time, and it doesn’t make everyone whose worried about their safety on the streets happy, it doesn’t make people who are concerned about their mental health happy,” she said.
“But you don’t want to do what we did before which is throw jello at the wall and see if it stick.”
In the meantime Dominato, who has written to the provincial government and plans to write to Ottawa asking for her task force, says something urgent needs to happen.
“I think we’ve hit a tipping point, and we’re seeing that in neighbourhoods like Strathcona,” she said.
“If we don’t take action now we’re going to see more deaths, more challenges, more disorder.”
— With files from Jordan Armstrong