Prejudice biggest barrier to housing the homeless: Vancouver city councillor Jean Swanson

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      Jean Swanson never ceases to ask why governments do not go all in to solve homelessness.

      It’s not as if there are no resources available to address the problem, the Vancouver city councillor noted.

      As an example, the federal government on September 21 this year announced what it dubbed as Rapid Housing Initiative or RHI.

      The $1-billion program will cover the construction of modular housing, acquisition of land, and the conversion of existing buildings to affordable housing.

      The RHI is expected to enable the rapid delivery of up to 3,000 new affordable housing units across the country.

      So that’s 3,000 units, and according to Swanson, there are 235,000 homeless people across Canada.

      A couple of days later, on September 23, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outlined his government’s priorities in a Speech from the Throne.

      “In 2017, the Government announced that it would reduce chronic homelessness by 50 percent,” according to the speech.

      The speech also noted that the government has “already helped more than a million people get a safe and affordable place to call home”.

      “Given the progress that has been made, and our commitment to do more, the Government is now focused on entirely eliminating chronic homelessness in Canada,” the government declared.

      That sounded like a bold promise.

      But there’s one problem, Swanson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      “The weasel word is ‘chronic’,” Swanson said.

      “Chronic homelessness is two to 20 percent of homelessness,” Swanson said. “So my question would be: why not end it all?”

      A count on March 3 and March 4 this year tallied 3,634 homeless people across Metro Vancouver.

      Out of the total number, Vancouver accounted for the biggest figure at 2,905.

      On September 1, 2020, the B.C. NDP government and the City of Vancouver announced that they are partnering to build 450 new supportive homes for homeless people in the municipality.

      These include the development of 98 temporary modular supportive homes at 1580 Vernon Drive, and 350 units of permanent supportive housing.

      The projects would be built on city-owned land, and the provincial government would fund the capital and operating costs.

      Swanson noted that if 450 units are built each year for the next three years, and if the federal government matches the same, then the city could “actually get a handle on homelessness”.

      “What we need in Vancouver today is 3,000 units,” she said.

      Swanson noted that homelessness is difficult both for the individual and society at large.

      People without a home have half the life expectancy of other people, “and that’s bad”, Swanson said.

      She also noted that studies have shown that it’s more expensive for governments to support people on the streets compared to putting them in housing.

      “So why is it that governments refuse to house people who are homeless?” Swanson asked. “And the only thing I can think of is that it’s prejudice and stigma and stereotyping, and somehow thinking that they’re less than other people, and they’re not.”