Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


May 31, 2011

Remarks on Motion 14 — Government Action on Homelessness

S. Simpson: I'm pleased to join in this debate, this discussion, of the motion in regard to the question of homelessness.

I think that when we talk about this issue, we need to look at the broader question. It clearly is the case that in terms of people accessing shelters, we saw significant improvements in the last homelessness count in the Lower Mainland, which the member spoke about. We did see significant improvement.

The most disappointing thing in some ways is that we saw essentially no improvement in terms of the overall number of homeless people. The improvement was in the number of people who would access shelters. We haven't seen the progress there. We still see somewhere between 12,000 to 15,000 people as the projection across British Columbia who are homeless. That's an issue that continues to be challenging.

The member speaks about some housing that is coming in the future, and that's always a positive thing. I'm pleased that's going to occur and that that's going to take some pressure off. But we're not seeing, necessarily, a strategy here that begins to address some of these more critical housing issues.

I would note, and I'm sure the member who moved the motion would agree, that one of the most troubling things that we saw in that homelessness count was an increase of 29 percent in youth homelessness — increasing numbers of young people who, for whatever reasons, have made the decision that their home, their family, isn't a place where they can be, and they've left. There's a gap. We're seeing that gap there.

They're young people, many of them vulnerable. They're on the street. We know, and I'm sure everybody in this House agrees, that these are young people who still have a future in front of them. We need to capture the opportunity to be able to find the resources to support them so that they don't get captured in a cycle long term, which will be detrimental to their futures and certainly has no positives for us. We have a chance to break that cycle now by creating opportunities there.

I think that leads, again, to the discussion and the concern that I have. While the government has moved…. I know that the Minister Responsible for Housing has been focused on the issue of homelessness over the last number of years, and that's a positive.

 But there are those people in the housing community…. I note the chair of the housing committee for Metro Vancouver, Mayor Wright of New Westminster, made these comments in relation to the homelessness count report. The concern they have — it's a concern I share, and it reflects on the Premier's call for families first — is that we have about half a million people in this province who live in poverty today. About a quarter of those are children, about 120,000, and we have not had a housing strategy in this province for the last decade that has looked at addressing the issue of family housing.

We know that in many instances people there aren't finding the housing they need — appropriate and affordable housing. I worry that the cycle that creates in relation to poverty is a cycle that will be very hard to break. While I think we're all glad that the shelters have been opened, and we're all glad there's going to be some housing opened in the next few months, there's a huge gap here in terms of dealing with the issue of poverty, dealing with the issue of families, of children, of young people who are on the street. Those are gaps.

I think we can take a moment and the government can take a moment to congratulate itself on this. But there needs to be a strategy moving forward, particularly if the Premier's call for families first is to be taken seriously. It's those most vulnerable families who have to come first in our society. It's those 120,000 kids and their moms and their dads and their families. We need to figure out how we get at addressing their issues.

We all know that the foundation to that, one of the core questions there, is the question of housing — safe, affordable and reasonable housing. We need to get at that. My plea certainly to the government would be that we see a strategy that starts to talk about how we get our head around that and how we deal with that.

The rent subsidy program has worked for a small number of people, but it has been a very small number of people — maybe 12,000 families in total. There are a lot of people who aren't fitting the criteria for a whole array of reasons, including the fact that people on income assistance don't qualify.

So we have big challenges there. I would hope that the government will broaden its horizons and see housing as a broader issue with broader concerns, and move forward on that. With that, I will sit down and let some other people take their place in this debate.

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