British Columbia

B.C. to fight homelessness with 'navigation centres,' a first in Canada modelled after San Francisco

'Not a silver bullet, but a positive step,' say homeless advocates as new funding was unveiled in this week's provincial budget.

'Not a silver bullet, but a positive step,' say homeless advocates as new funding is unveiled in B.C. budget

Homeless people living in Oppenheimer Park near Powell and Jackson streets on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in January. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C. will become the first jurisdiction in the country to build navigation centres as a way to combat homelessness. 

The 'enhanced shelter model' is a first-of-its-kind for Canada and modelled on similar programs in jurisdictions like San Francisco, according to the Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs Selina Robinson.

"We tailored [the idea] to B.C.," Robinson told CBC on Wednesday. "We've been looking for innovative ways to support people who are still in need of housing and this is an interim step."

Each centre will house 60 beds in a shelter-like setting and will include wrap-around services to provide additional resources and support help people get off the streets.

Housing Minister Selina Robinson says navigation centres will be modeled after similar facilities in the U.S. and tailored to B.C. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

"It's a way to bring all the resources to one location where we can continue to support people," Robinson said. "Whether it's making sure they have ID, getting them registered, getting health checks. It's helping to identify services that are available to them."

New funding was unveiled in Tuesday's budget within the $50 million earmarked for homelessness initiatives over the next three years.

The provincial government isn't yet revealing where the navigation centres will be located or the timeline of construction.

'The need is far outpacing the response'

The idea is applauded by a homeless advocate in Vancouver.

"Navigation centres, when done right, can be very positive," said Jeremy Hunka, spokesperson for the Union Gospel Mission. "It's not a silver bullet ... but it's a positive step."

The extra supports proposed in the new program could meet some of the needs UGM staff see every day on the Downtown Eastside.

"You have people coming in with nowhere else to go and they're really struggling — and while they're there accessing needs like shelter, they can get quickly plugged in to services that can change their circumstances."

The Union Gospel Mission offers 72 permanent shelter beds. (Mike Zimmer / CBC)

He said the 2,000 modular housing units that have been built province-wide are helpful, but notes there are still roughly 7,000 homeless people across British Columbia.

"The need is far outpacing our collective response right now... We're still way behind the game in terms of the number of [homeless] people," Hunka said.

He was pleased to see the NDP government continue with its 10-year pledge to build 114,000 units of affordable housing, but he says momentum needs to continue.

 "We've got a good chance right now over the next few years to really turn the tide and reverse the homelessness that's been rising for years," said Hunka. "Let's put the the pedal to the metal — that's really what our message would be."

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