British Columbia

B.C. targets homelessness with funds for youth in foster care, housing for people with addictions

B.C.'s minister of children and family development said it is the first time the province has created a comprehensive cross-government approach to supporting youth foster care and those leaving it.

$633 million to be spent over three years to support people experiencing homelessness

The B.C. government announced Thursday it will increase funding to target the root causes of homelessness. (David Horemans/CBC)

The British Columbia government is expanding supports for youth in foster care and housing for people with addictions and mental illness as part of an approach that it says targets the root causes of homelessness.

Several cabinet ministers gathered for a news conference Thursday to share details of $633 million in spending over three years, funds announced in this year's budget to support people experiencing homelessness.

Mitzi Dean, minister of children and family development, said $35 million over three years will help former youth in care, almost half of whom experience homelessness at some point in their lives.

"This is the first time the province has created a comprehensive cross-government approach to supporting youth in and from care,'' Dean said.

It will help cover an unconditional one-year income supplement of $1,250 per month and a $600-a-month rental supplement. A no-limit earnings exemption aims to give the young adults "an incentive to work and build that independence for themselves,'' while they receive supports, Dean said.

The government is also making permanent an emergency measure that was put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that allows young people to stay in their foster homes until they are 21 years old rather than 19.

The First Nations Leadership Council applauded the increase in supports, saying in a statement that programs for youth have been highly restrictive and offered few results.

The council said it would hold the government accountable to the pledges, given that First Nations adults who were in foster care are 200 times more likely to become homeless.

"These numbers are simply not acceptable, and we look forward to ... working closely with rights holders, to addressing these dire outcomes,'' said Cheryl Casimer of the First Nations Summit.

Tangie Genshorek, executive director of A Way Home Kamloops, said the budget may mark the beginning of a significant shift for homeless youth.

"This is still just the beginning, and we will all have to work very hard to make this shift we can visualize a reality,'' she said.

Other funds to help the homeless outlined by the ministers include $164 million to expand the government's complex-care housing program and $264 million for a permanent housing plan to support about 3,000 people who were temporarily housed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Complex-care housing includes nurses, social workers and other health workers to treat residents who have overlapping mental health and substance use issues and brain injuries.

In a report released Wednesday, the government found 23,000 people experienced homelessness in 2019, with about an equal split between chronic and temporary homelessness.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said in a statement the promise of 20 new complex-care sites across B.C. "can't come soon enough.''

The government announced plans for the first four sites in January in Surrey, Abbotsford and Vancouver.

Helps also said the city is looking forward to deploying as many as possible of the 3,000 new rent supplements at $600 each announced in the budget to get people into existing housing.

Housing Minister David Eby said $4 million that is flagged for B.C. Housing to provide services at homeless encampments is not a signal that the province is in favour of the encampments, only that the government has a responsibility to support its residents.

As an example, he said a B.C. Supreme Court ruling refusing an injunction that would have forced campers out means they will remain there "for a while,'' and the government has a duty to ensure their safety and dignity with services like portable toilets and food.

"That does not mean at all that the provincial government supports encampments. We do not. They are not safe for the people who live there,'' he said, adding the province continues to work with local governments to find housing for those affected.