Mayor Gregor Robertson begins the Feb. 1 council session adorned in traditional East Asian attires. The mayor welcomed members of the Asian community by wishing them a happy new year in Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean.
This month’s city staff report on the progress to shelter the Vancouver’s street homeless by 2015 expressed a mixture of positive and negative sentiments.
City manager Penny Ballem said that while 450 spaces were still needed to meet the goal, a worthy commitment from the community could make this a reality.
The dollar figure of such a commitment has been estimated to be $20 million per 100 spaces, in addition to an annual maintenance fee of $1 million.
“We have a lot of momentum,” Ballem said during last Tuesday’s council meeting. “Let’s see what we can do this year.”
Ballem estimated that by 2020 the demand for spaces will increase by another 750 people, leading to a potential bill of $240 million should the city provide needed real estate.
With such a high financial commitment needed to provide for the city’s growing homeless population, there could be worry that a long-term solution is being avoided.
Councillor Ellen Woodsworth echoed concerns that the city is plagued by an underlying racism, which sees groups like aboriginal women left behind.
The report also stressed that 80 per cent of the homeless in Vancouver suffer from one or more health concerns, a significant underlying factor pushing many into destitution.
Despite this, advocacy groups in the city that are largely responsible for providing for the homeless are careful to avoid speculation that the city’s plan is anything but correct.
“Union Gospel Mission is encouraged by the way city council is going. We hope to be part of that solution,” spokesman Derek Weiss said.
“To the point of full-disclosure, the city of Vancouver has provided us with $1.4 million for the building of a new building,” Weiss added.
While UGM is pleased to be receiving a significant portion of the money allotted to tackling homelessness in the city, Weiss did admit that concerns like those put forward by Woodsworth have some weight.
“All women and particularly aboriginal women do represent a higher percentage of people that go through extreme struggles on the Downtown Eastside. That’s something that needs to be looked at.”
Weiss said that groups like UGM are not capable of dealing with the more extreme health issues faced by many of the city’s homeless. While this is a contributing factor to their suffering, the most a group like UGM can do is refer them to a doctor.
“We try not to be discouraged, we live on hope. You don’t spend very long in the Downtown Eastside before you start to cling to hope,” Weiss said.
While the city continues to spend millions to meet its goal, one thing remains clear. The growth of homelessness in Vancouver is expected to continue towards 2015 and beyond.