This week is Homelessness Action Week and I have agreed to participate in a panel discussion on addressing Homelessness in Surrey Tuesday October 12 at 7:30. The event will include remarks from Mayor and Councillor Judy Vielleneuve, and a screening of the movie Poor No More. Below is more information, as well as a 6 Point Plan I once suggested for Vancouver, which could be modified to address Surrey's Homelessness Challenges.
'Poor No More' - Public Forum and Reception
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Join the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Task Force for a Public Forum and Reception showcasing the documentary ‘Poor No More'.
Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Time: 7:30 pm until 9:30 pm
Place: SFU Surrey Campus, Theatre and Main Hall
Guest speakers include a representative of the Surrey Board of Trade; Denise Moffat, President of the Surrey Teacher’s Association; Michael Geller, Architect and Property Developer; and Lorraine Copas, Executive Director of SPARC BC.
Poor No More offers solutions to Canada's working poor. The film takes three Canadians to a world where people do not have to beg, where housing is affordable and university education is free. They ask themselves - if other countries can do this, why don't we?
Hosted by TV and film star Mary Walsh, Poor No More offers an engaging look at Canadians stuck in low paying jobs with no security and no future. Mary then takes us on a journey to Ireland and Sweden so we can see how these countries have tackled poverty while strengthening their economies. It offers hope to those who have to work two jobs a day and to those who can’t find work.
ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS: SIX SHORT AND LONGER TERM INITIATIVES
Michael Geller. B.Arch, MAIBC, FCIP
During the course of the last election campaign, we heard a lot about the need to address homelessness. Many argued that the city needed to have a plan. In fact, Vancouver has a homeless action plan which is being implemented.
The Plan identifies Three Strategic Priorities and 87 recommendations that if implemented, would make a significant difference in reducing homelessness. It identifies three key priorities in the areas of income, housing and support services.
I first learned about the plan when I started to volunteer with a small group in the Downtown Eastside. I think it is a sound plan. However, like any good plan, it must be adapted as circumstances evolve. Based on what I have learned over the past year, we need a comprehensive set of actions to reduce homelessness by half by 2010, and ultimately achieve the longer term goal of ending homelessness by 2015.
I know we must be realistic. Vancouver is a very desirable place to live, and homeless people will continue to migrate here from other parts of the province and country. For this reason, any effective plan can only be implemented in cooperation with the senior levels of government, the broader community and the private sector.
The following are 6 actions that I think might help us address homelessness in Vancouver over the coming years.
1. Renovate or construct new units. This program is currently underway and will result in both supportive housing and more conventional self-contained units. However, as evidenced by the recent re-opening of the Pennsylvania Hotel, this approach can be costly. (The Pennsylvania appears to have cost more than $1000 a sq.ft. of livable space!) Many of the proposed projects on 12 city sites are being held up pending a review of their costs and development programs. While new projects are necessary, we need to look to other strategies.
2. House the homeless through a ‘streetohome’ initiative. This program has been underway in Toronto and other North American cities and has been effective in housing people and providing support services in both ‘purpose built’ and existing rental accommodation. A new ‘streetohome’ Foundation was created in 2008 and has the potential to attract significant private sector funds, to complement public sector funds;
3. Enforce the Standards of Maintenance bylaws including the provisions that allow the city to do the work and bill the owner if he refuses. Only once did the city do this, and it resulted in a lawsuit. But this is an approach worthy of further investigation. I think it is wrong to simply buy up badly maintained hotels. We should compel the owners to fix them;
4. Work with the Province to increase the Shelter Component of Welfare. It did not increase for 14 years, and only recently increased $50 to $375. This is not enough. And the low shelter allowance contributes to the poor maintenance of much of the accommodation in the city. $375 does not buy much
5. Given the urgent need to help get people off the streets while the new housing is being built, continue to identify opportunities for new shelter beds, with appropriate security. While this is not a long term solution, DTES activists who previously opposed shelters now tell us that we should create limited new shelters. And why not put lockers and possibly ‘privacy screens’ in shelters to help make them safer and more secure?
6. Create a stock of factory built relocatable housing that can be set up on a temporary basis on vacant publicly and privately owned lands in the DTES and elsewhere in the City. While we are well aware that there is often nothing more permanent than a ‘temporary building’, this housing would be temporary if located on sites with significant redevelopment potential. The owners of private sites could be offered property tax relief, and other attractive inducements to make sites available. The units could be kept in place for no more than 3 years and still be viable. This form of housing could be erected quickly and meet a need while longer term solutions are implemented.
None of these ideas will completely end homelessness. There will always be people who want to remain on the streets. But a comprehensive strategy is necessary in Vancouver, and Surrey, and other places where homelessness is a problem.
I hope these ideas will contribute to the discussion during Homelessness Action Week.