Want to reduce homelessness in Vancouver? Supporting drop-in centres is the first step

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      By Nancy Keough

      If you feel like you are seeing more and more people experiencing homelessness on the streets of Vancouver, you aren’t wrong.

      This year’s homelessness count by the Homelessness Services Association of BC found that there are 4,821 people experiencing homelessness in Greater Vancouver—a 32 per cent increase since 2020. While the roots of today’s homelessness crisis have been well documented, the key to solving it is not as simple as just building more housing.

      Make no mistake: increasing the supply of supportive housing with properly funded wraparound services is a big part of the solution. But it doesn’t take into consideration that not everyone is ready to accept housing when it is made available to them.

      While you might think that someone who is experiencing homelessness would jump at the first opportunity to obtain housing, in reality, this is not always the case. For many people—especially those who have been homeless for a long time—years spent living on the street, combined with past trauma, have made them less trusting of others, and less willing to put themselves in a position where they have to follow someone else’s rules. For others, the severity of their mental illness or addiction may affect their ability to act in their best interest or in a way that is safe for them and others.

      That is why drop-in centres are so important. They are an easy-to-access first point of contact for people experiencing homelessness where they can get to know staff, develop trust, and be connected to health care and other services.

      What are drop-in centres?

      Drop-in centres—like the one run by The Kettle Society in East Vancouver—provide people experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and addiction with vital services that support them in stabilizing their condition and connect them with health care and housing. This includes helping them meet their basic needs by providing nutritious meals and access to hot showers and laundry facilities. These centres also provide services that housed individuals take for granted, but that can be big barriers for people experiencing homelessness to improve their situation, such as a safe place to store identification and access to computers with the internet.

      Most importantly, they provide a sense of community and belonging for people who often feel isolated and marginalized.

      It can all start with a cup of coffee

      For many people, their path to housing starts with a cup of coffee at a drop-in centre. It is an easy offer to accept for someone who is feeling isolated and wary of others.

      This is the great advantage of drop-in centres: they are able to meet people where they are at and offer them as little or as much support as they want at any given time. They are safe, dependable places where people can feel seen and find community.

      Unprecedented need

      As homelessness has increased, so too has the demand for drop-in centres. The Kettle’s Drop-In Centre has seen its number of visits jump an unprecedented 180 per cent over the past year—with more and more individuals coming in with complex mental and physical health needs. Other drop-in centres around the city have experienced a similar trend. 

      This has put the already limited resources that drop-in centres have to work with under even more strain. As a result, many are increasingly reliant on donations to fund their operations. That is the case for The Kettle, which launched a donor campaign to allow us to continue providing vital services to the growing number of people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver. 

      Given the increased need that we are seeing on our city streets, now is the time for all of us to stand up and support drop-in centres. This holiday season, as many Vancouverites look to support worthy causes in the community, I encourage them to consider supporting local drop-in centres. They are key to solving the homelessness crisis and building a future where everyone in Vancouver has a place to call home.

      Nancy Keough is the executive director of The Kettle Society, which has been providing housing, support, and employment opportunities to vulnerable people facing mental illness, homelessness, and substance use challenges for nearly 50 years. The Kettle’s Drop-In Centre at Commercial Drive and Venables had more than 30,000 visits over the past year.