Downtown Eastside activists fear 2016 will see a spike in Vancouver homeless

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      Some discouraging math will be presented at a January 9 community meeting about low-income housing in the Downtown Eastside.

      According to Jean Swanson, a volunteer with the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), the number of homeless people in Vancouver is expected to spike in 2016.

      She explained that last year, the city’s annual count of homeless people found 836 living in the Downtown Eastside (about half of the city’s total of 1,746), and that the neighbourhood faces new pressures this year.

      Swanson said those numbers could grow by 300 in 2016 because that’s how many single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotel units the city calculates Vancouver loses each year to renovations that result in rent hikes that price lower-income earners out of the market. On top of that, Swanson continued, there are concerns that some 157 people living at the Quality Inn at 1335 Howe Street could soon be out on the street. That group consists of people who were previously living in a protest camp in Oppenheimer Park through much of 2014.

      “We are going to have a mountain of homelessness,” Swanson concluded. “And no level of government is doing anything about it.”

      She said the January 9 event—which will begin at 2 p.m. at the Carnegie Community Centre at Main and East Hastings streets—is therefore planned as a strategy meeting for the year ahead.

      Activists with the Carnegie Community Action Project estimate the number of homeless in Vancouver could rise by more than 450 people over the course of 2016.
      City of Vancouver / Travis Lupick

      Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang took issue with CCAP’s numbers. He maintained that tenants at the Quality Inn face no threat of eviction. (Tobin Postma, a city spokesperson, clarified that the government’s building lease ends in November. “We are working hard this year on finding appropriate alternative housing options for everyone that is currently housed there,” he said.)

      Where activists are justified in raising alarm, Jang continued, is where so-called renovictions are pricing low-income people out of SROs.

      “That is a problem,” he said. “Those are private buildings and so there is very little one can do.”

      According to a December 2015 city staff report, hotel rooms renting at the welfare-shelter rate of $375 per month have disappeared at a rapid pace. Those units are almost exclusively located in the Downtown Eastside. The report states that in 2011, the portion of SRO units renting at $375 a month was already as low as 35 percent, and by 2013, that number had dwindled down to 24 percent.

      Jang noted that in December 2015, city council adopted new measures aimed at protecting tenants from renovictions. He called for more help from the province, and specifically for an increase to welfare allowances for shelter, which have remained frozen since 2007

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