British Columbia

B.C. says new provincial spending aims to create proactive approach to homelessness, mental illness

In its annual budget released Tuesday, the province says it is moving to help prevent homelessness in B.C. and provide more stable housing to those without a roof over their heads.

New money includes supporting youth in care up to 8 years beyond their 19th birthday

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson explains the 2022 provincial budget to media in Victoria on Feb 22. 2022. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

In its annual budget released Tuesday, the province says it is moving to help prevent homelessness in B.C. and provide more stable housing to those without a roof over their heads.

Its fiscal plan for the next three years sets aside $633 million to support these initiatives.

"A new comprehensive approach is needed to shift from reactive to proactive solutions for homelessness," said Robinson in her budget speech to the legislature.

Budget 2022 earmarks $170 million to provide rent supplements of up to $600 per month to help people access market housing.

The document said that by the end of the fiscal plan in 2025, more than 3,000 people will be supported through the program.

Details of how the program will roll out have yet to be announced, but the government said to access the funds, renters will need to provide proof of a rental agreement.

Prices still rising

The province said Tuesday that over the past year more than 53,000 homes were registered in B.C. to help ease demand for housing.

"And in the last five years, we've registered more rental homes than the previous 15 years combined," said Robinson.

Still, over the past year, housing prices have risen by up to 40 per cent in the Fraser Valley and are up 16 per cent in Vancouver. Those increased prices have increased provincial revenue from the property transfer tax by $1.3 billion more than expected this year.

The province said it will spend more than $500 million over the next three years to acquire and implement permanent housing for people now temporarily housed, including those displaced or precariously housed due to the pandemic.

Its 10-year plan calls for it deliver 114,000 affordable homes in B.C.

Youth-in-care

New money was also announced to help aid those who are most at risk of homelessness, including youth in care.

The province said youth who have been part of the government's care system are more likely to experience homelessness compared to their peers, and that almost 50 per cent of former youth in care experience homelessness at some time in their lives.

To address this, the budget provides $35 million over the next three years to support youth who age out of care up to their 27th birthday.

"As a mum, I know the responsibility that I have to my children did not end on their 19th birthdays," said Robinson.

She says the new money will facilitate a move to permanent from temporary housing, rent supplements, counselling, medical benefits and expanded life-skills programming.

Encampment supports

The province is also providing $4 million for B.C. Housing to provide supports for people experiencing homelessness at encampments across the province.

The money will be used to help with engagement at the camps along with providing food, sanitation, storage for people living at the camps and enhanced security.

There was also new money committed to 20 more sites across B.C. that will support up to 500 people currently homeless or unstably housed with severe mental health, substance-use issues or traumatic and acquired brain injuries.

Robinson said that spending in the budget meant to address housing and mental health will help stem overdose deaths in the province. More than 2,000 people died in 2021.

Jonathan Morris with the Canadian Mental Health Association called the spending for mental health in the budget an "incremental step," toward making a meaningful difference.

He says he wants to see the province commit about 10 per cent of B.C.'s  heath-care spending to mental health programming.

"It's a step we need to sustain," he said.

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