Volunteers during the March 8 homeless count in Surrey. (Amy Reid photo)

Volunteers during the March 8 homeless count in Surrey. (Amy Reid photo)

COLUMN: Metro Vancouver housing crisis worsens with winter

ML Burke writes that something must be done as soon as possible to help shelter people in winter

“Even if you’re on the right track you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” — Will Rogers

You may have seen a recent news story about homeless people living in their RVs in and around Vancouver. Homelessness has become so commonplace it is evolving into a sub-culture complete with class distinctions — the lowest being the poor people living outside (i.e. unsheltered) who are at the mercy of the elements, followed by the middle class who are in temporary shelters or couch surfing and the upper class who live in their own vans and RVs.

Many who live in RVs have jobs in the city and need to find parking that is not time restricted. They are parking overnight in industrial areas but those businesses are complaining because their dumpsters are being used or garbage and human waste is being left on their properties. Others are parking on unrestricted residential streets or in vacant parking lots such as at Spanish Banks.

Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson hesitates to ticket or tow these vehicles because he doesn’t want to further hurt these folks who are already down. There are no easy solutions but some interim measures could be taken, such as allowing parking on specified vacant city lots, along with providing porta potties and some sani-stations where disposable toilet-contents could be emptied. Winter is coming and given our crazy weather, it could be a doozy.

According to the 2017 homeless count, the number of homeless in Metro Vancouver has increased 30 per cent. Delta was lumped in with White Rock for a total of 46 homeless. I’m sure there are more because people weren’t counted unless they agreed to answer a survey. Still, 46 is a low number compared to Vancouver’s count of 2,138.

The only Lower Mainland area to have a decrease was the North Shore, down 16 per cent. Compare that to Delta-White Rock’s increase of 142 per cent since 2014 and it’s apparent the homeless are migrating south to our dryer communities. On a national scale this also holds true because homeless Canadians are coming west for our milder winters.

We need a national affordable housing strategy — now — that involves all three levels of government. Nothing in our constitution establishes a right to housing and courts haven’t declared one to exist. However, Canada did sign and ratify the 1976 United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and in Article 11 it recognized “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”

Until this growing crisis is resolved, which could take years, maybe we need to start constructing durable tent cities in our afflicted communities, like the military uses in the field or aid agencies use in refugee camps and disaster areas. A warm, dry private space in a secure environment is surely better than constantly having to hide, move or freeze to death. After all, we’re Canadians. In the short term we can do something about this before winter takes hold. In the longer term, lets build more non-profit co-ops for people of all ages.

ML Burke retired from the health sector to work on issues such as affordable housing. She sits on the Delta Seniors Planning Team and the BC Seniors Advocate’s Council of Advisors.

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