Vancouver Homelessness- unanswered questions

What can we do to display care and kindness towards the homeless? There are so many ways we can touch someone’s life…Donating clothing, blankets, food, money and/or your time at Vancouver shelters such as Powell Place-for women and children in crisis, Covenant House- youth 16 years- 24, or Catholic Charities Men’s Hostel , making and handing out care packages or just saying hello.

According to my research, a recent 2019 homelessness count revealed that “the number of people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver has hit its highest level in nearly two decades” This is devastating and I have some questions. What has the government done about this?

  1. Why are there not more government Outreach Programs?

I recently witnessed a police officer waking up a homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk, giving him a cup of coffee and a squeegee and then driving off. We can do better than that!

2. Why is the government turning a blind eye to the many who make the streets their home?

I had a six month contract at a job on Denman Street, downtown. Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm. I got off the bus on Burrard Street and Davie and as I made my way to work, I saw the same homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk with their belongings by their side. This did not change the entire six months, even through the winter. Why hasn’t the government reached out to them and helped them go to a shelter, where they can enjoy a hot meal, sleep in a warm bed, clean up and perhaps connect with support services- social, health and housing? Everyone has the right to safe housing. There should be more outreach programs similar to the one at the Carnegie Community Centre.

3. Whatever happened to the plans for the Riverview lands?

In the 1980s, the hospital wards and buildings of Riverview started shutting down and Riverview officially closed in 2012. The government’s plan was to “integrate mental health patients back into the communities” In 2017, a new mental health facility on Riverview lands was proposed by the government at the time and was due to open in 2019. “The project exemplifies the provincial government’s commitment to mental health and addiction treatment as the province grapples with an opioid crisis” The planning for this project apparently started in 2015 and the new facility (105 beds) is to replace the aging Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (94 beds) That is only 11 more beds! The most recent information I could find on the internet was that this facility is due to open in late 2020. There are so many homeless people who are suffering from mental health problems and addiction and require specialized inpatient treatment. Why is the government not responding quicker?

4. Why is the government not helping give the homeless back their dignity?

We all know there is lack of housing. There is also lack of transition homes with rehabilitation programs and these are desperately needed for those individuals who require support to integrate into the community after, for example, leaving a shelter, speaking to a social worker or being discharged from hospital. Because of lack of community support, homeless people are socially isolated and their motivation to interact, work or be contributing members to society has decreased. I commend organizations like Coast Mental Health Foundation and the Kettle Society for their many programs which include, street outreach, drop in centres, employment and job training, educational opportunities and housing. According to Coast Foundation, “employment boosts self confidence, adds meaning to our lives and improves financial independence…Returning to work or beginning training that supports a return to work is both a milestone in recovery and a pathway to a better future”.