The City of New Westminster is part of a new regional task force on homelessness.
Over the next few months, eight municipalities will be working together and sharing data in order to assess the homelessness crisis, including estimates on the number of homeless in Metro Vancouver; information on the frequency and volume of those turned away from shelters; a summary of experiences from municipalities dealing with street homelessness and tent cities; and the number of permanent shelters and interim housing spaces needed immediately to address the problem.
“(We’re) really trying to say what are the policies and things we can put in place to prevent people from even becoming homeless in the first place,” said Mayor Jonathan Cote.
The Metro Vancouver homeless count happens every three years, with the next one scheduled for March 7 and 8, 2017.
Between 2002 and 2008, the unsheltered homeless population in New West increased by 118 per cent, according to a staff report. In 2005, the city implemented a number of measures, including developing a needs assessment and strategy, creating a homelessness coalition, hiring a social planner and partnering with B.C. Housing to develop 28 shelter beds and 84 longer-term transitional and supported housing units.
The last homeless count in 2014 saw a decrease in the city’s homeless population. From 91 sheltered people (people living in homeless shelters, transitional houses or safe houses) in 2011, that number dropped to 72. Meanwhile, there were 32 unsheltered people in 2014, compared to 41 in 2011.
Cote said he plans to share the city’s successes with the task force, which was struck by the Greater Vancouver Regional District (Metro Vancouver) Board.
“We’ve seen our street homeless population decrease over the years with our partnerships with the provincial government and non-profit societies that have brought new transitional homes. I think New Westminster’s going to contribute to some of the areas where we have seen improvements in our communities,” he said.
Cote added part of tackling homelessness involves cities sharing their data on things like whether a shelter is full or not.
“Sometimes if someone, on a cold night, is looking for shelter in one place, but it’s full, it’s not readily apparent as to where can the outreach workers can help that individual find shelter for that evening, where are there open spaces. There isn’t that type of real-time data sharing between the facilities and the municipalities.”
Once the data has been collected and analyzed, the task force will develop a set of recommendations for the provincial government to immediately deliver permanent shelter and interim housing spaces in the spring of 2017, according to a press release from Metro Vancouver.
Cote hopes the task force will engage the province even more so than they have been in the past.
“If we are going to be successful with this really challenging issue, the province has to be at the table,” he said.
The other members of the task force are Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Township of Langley, Surrey, City of North Vancouver, District of North Vancouver, Port Moody and Metro Vancouver.