British Columbia

NDP's promise of affordable units is 'pitifully small,' says homeless advocate

While the provincial government has promised 33,000 affordable housing units provincewide over the next 10 years, some advocates say this won't be enough to get people off the streets.

'We probably need at least 600 to 1,000 affordable units in our city alone,' says Kelowna pastor

British Columbia needs a strategic approach to housing that includes support for mental health and addiction issues, says Lawrence East, a Kelowna pastor who works with his city's homeless population. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

This week, the provincial government announced measures to tackle the housing crisis — including adding affordable housing units — but some homeless advocates say that while an increase in housing is a step in the right direction, it won't be enough.

The B.C. NDP government said it will work to create 33,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years; this is compared to the 114,000 housing units the NDP campaigned on before being elected last May.

Speaking from the Legislature on Tuesday, B.C.'s Finance Minster Carole James said, "this will be the single largest investment in housing in the history of our province."

But Dean Schaffler, a Kelowna resident who was homeless for seven years before finally securing housing in January, has little faith that those housing promises will help people get off the streets.

"They [the government] seem make a lot of promises and they hold a lot of committees, but they fall very short on their promises," he said.

"It's frustrating when you're on the street. Most of the people that I know, or a lot of them, are still homeless and it's always an uphill battle for these poor guys."

Lawrence East — the pastor of Metro Community, a church in Kelowna that offers services to the homeless — has seen first-hand the struggles that Schaffler and others go through to get housing in Kelowna. He says that while additional supply is welcome, it likely won't be enough for his community.

"When we're talking about provincially, those numbers seem to be pitifully small. The reality is we probably need at least 600 to 1,000 affordable units in our city alone, today, not to mention a year from now or two years from now."

More support needed

Schaffler said that many people on the streets have addiction issues, which impedes them from getting housing.

Because of this, East said there needs to be a plan to have support structures in place at the same time as supplying the units.

"With mental health issues, with addictions issues, there does need to be a very strategic approach to providing not just shelter and housing but then making sure that the support structures ... come in behind that right away," East said. 

"Otherwise the housing piece, essentially falls flat."

With files from Daybreak South