'Shocking' homeless count needs provincial help, says mayor

Nearly 200 kids without homes, more than 70 makeshift homeless camps and an 'unprecedented surge' mean the need to act is urgent, says Vancouver's mayor.

199 homeless children, more than 70 makeshift camps and 'unprecedented surge' in homelessness in region

The City of Vancouver was granted an injunction last November to dismantle this homeless camp on the Downtown Eastside. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Metro Vancouver cities need more help from the B.C. government to deal with what the region calls an  "unprecedented surge" in homelessness documented in the latest homeless count, said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

The count showed a 30 per cent increase in homelessness in the region since 2014, with about 2,500 in shelters and more than 1,000 "unsheltered," sleeping in doorways, alleys or makeshift camps.

More than 70 homeless camps were tallied throughout Metro Vancouver, including Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby, North Vancouver, Langley, Maple Ridge, Delta and Coquitlam — some along streets and others tucked into forested areas.

There are also about 200 children under 19 who are homeless, most with their parents in family shelters, but seven children with their parents were without shelter, the report found,

Robertson, co-chair of the region's homelessness task force, called the numbers "shocking and horrific" Tuesday at city council.

"Clearly, a lot more support is required from provincial and federal governments," he said.

The number of people living on the street in the City of Vancouver was the same as 2014, but the city saw hundreds more homeless people in shelters this year. (David Horemans/CBC)

20 social housing sites offered

While the number of homeless may be unprecedented, calling on higher levels of government for help is not.

When Roberton's election promise to end street homelessness by 2015 was not fulfilled, he laid the blame in part on the province and feds, which have greater tax-raising power than municipalities.

Earlier this year, Vancouver offered 20 city-owned properties worth about $250 million to build more social housing, but city staff told Robertson Tuesay the B.C. government had only agreed to fund four of the sites.

Provincial support will be key to getting people off the streets and out of makeshift camps, said Robertson.

"Whoever [forms] the next provincial government will determine whether or not we can turn the tide on homelessness."

The B.C. Ministry of Housing said it was not able to respond during the election period.

However, a B.C. Liberal Party spokesperson said the government had "done more to support homeless issues in Vancouver than any provincial government in history."

He said the government spent $110 million on 5,200 subsidized or supportive housing units and approximately 750 homeless rent supplements as well as 950 year-round homeless shelter spaces, converting three temporary shelters to year-round shelters, 

A homeless camp in Maple Ridge in 2015. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

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