Union Gospel Mission highlights structural problems underlying homelessness

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      On Thursday (October 13), the Union Gospel Mission and the University of Victoria-based Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. jointly released a report that reinforced the importance of addressing the housing crisis in Metro Vancouver.

      It includes some startling facts:

      * Women accounted for 32 percent of people in shelters in 2015-16, up from 28 percent four years earlier. "This may be due to an increase in shelter spaces for women," the report states.

      * The vacancy rate is 0.1 pecent for bachelor suites at less than $750 per month in Vancouver. This means that there is only one vacant unit for every 1,000 on the market at this price.

      * Over a four-year period from 2012 to 2016, there was a 38 percent increase in the number of seniors applying to B.C.'s Housing Registry for subdidized shelter.

      * Those self-identifying as aboriginal account for 23 percent of shelter users, which has remained constant since 2011.

      * Income assistance has remained frozen for nine years.

      * Rent supplements rose from 607 to 1,516 over a four year period from 2011-12 to 2015-16.

      The report, like others before it, links rising market rents and decreasing vacancy rates to increased homelessness.

      "In Metro Vancouver the overall vacancy rate has dropped from 1.9% in 2010 to less than half that in 2015 (0.8%)," it notes. "In the City of Vancouver in 2015, the overall vacancy rate was even lower at 0.6%."

      The document also points out that a minimum-wage worker would have to shell out 56 pecent of monthly after-tax income to afford the monthly median rent ($920) of a bachelor unit in the region.

      "The structural factors that drive homelessness, including average market rents, vacancy rates, and supply of low end of market housing, signal that in the current environment, homelessness will continue to grow," the report concludes. "This is clearly evidenced by an increasing number of people enumerated during recent homeless counts, consistently high emergency shelter occupancy rates and increasing numbers of people on the BC Housing Registry."

      The Union Gospel Mission has emerged a high-profile voice on homelessness after problems that plagued the Downtown Eastside's largest provider of social housing, the Portland Hotel Society, in 2014.

      Founded in 1940 as a Christian charity to feed the hungry, it continues providing meals to the poor. The Union Gospel Mission also operates an emergency shelter at 601 East Hastings, affordable housing units in partnership with B.C. Housing, and drug and alcohol recovery programs.