British Columbia

Vancouver mayor calls for council vote on emergency COVID-19 homeless relief measures

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is introducing a motion for council's consideration that puts three shelter options on the table for staff to investigate aimed at helping the city's homeless get safely indoors during the pandemic before the cold weather hits.

Kennedy Stewart's motion puts 3 shelter options on the table to get campers indoors before cold weather hits

Vancouver's most recent homelessness flashpoint is in Strathcona Park, where over 300 tents were erected this summer. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

UPDATE: A special meeting called for this motion will continue on Monday, Sept. 14 at 3:30 p.m. 

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is introducing a motion for council's consideration that puts three shelter options on the table for staff to investigate aimed at helping the city's homeless get safely indoors during the pandemic before the cold weather hits.

On Tuesday, Stewart announced a special meeting will be held Friday to vote on his motion that calls for city staff to investigate the feasibility of the city purchasing or leasing housing units, creating a sanctioned tent city or temporarily converting buildings into emergency housing or shelter space.

"No matter the course of action we take, we must all remember that the only way we can respond to people going through the hardest moments imaginable is by being compassionate and generous," said Stewart in a statement.

Report back by Oct. 2: mayor

The motion asks for staff to report back on the three options by Oct. 2.

According to a news release from city hall, acquiring new housing units could be done by purchasing or leasing hotels for use as emergency shelter, as the provincial government has been doing since the spring.

COPE Coun. Jean Swanson supports this option.

"Winter is coming. [Hotels are] empty," Swanson said Tuesday afternoon on CBC's On the Coast. "If we put people in them, we'd not only help the people who are homeless, we'd help the hotel owners," and their struggling employees, she added.

The longtime anti-poverty advocate didn't say how she plans to vote Friday.

The motion says the second option, a temporary emergency relief encampment, could be set up on vacant public or private land and the third option to add additional shelter space or emergency housing could be done in city buildings converted for that purpose.

Stewart's motion says that, if approved, city staff will work with B.C. Housing and other government and non-profit agencies to invite unsheltered residents to move into housing units or shelter spaces, then to more permanent housing, as it becomes available.

Strathcona Park is the site of Vancouver's newest tent city, after tents at Oppenheimer Park and CRAB Park were dismantled in the spring. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Additional announcement pending

Last week, the city and province announced a new complex containing 98 units of temporary modular housing is coming as part of a newly announced effort to address the homeless crisis. Plans for a further 350 units of permanent supportive housing are also in the works.

In an interview on CBC Radio Tuesday, Stewart also hinted there could be other similar announcements on the way.

"There's more to come and you'll hear more about that in the coming days," he said.

The mayor's motion also calls for city staff to "expedite the necessary planning approval of the 450 modular housing units recently and jointly announced with the province." 

COVID-19 and homeless impact

Stewart said the homelessness situation in Vancouver has been exacerbated by COVID-19 because physical distancing rules in shelters and hotels have pushed more people outside.

"There's no guests allowed in many of the hotel rooms and shelters have to be spaced out, so all those folks that would normally be in those accommodations are now on the street," said Stewart.

"If you look around anywhere kind of north of 16th Avenue, you are going to see many more people living with homelessness [and] a lot of that's to do with COVID-19 policies."

Stewart said more housing units could be built if the federal government followed through on commitments to help end street homelessness. According to the mayor, the city has freed up land and the province has freed up funding to make help this happen.

"I think there's a willingness on the elected side for sure, it is the bureaucracy in which this is stuck ... and it really is disappointing, especially when we have so much need here in the city," he said.

According to recently released data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, only 0.5 per cent of $1.46 billion allocated through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund (NHCF) has gone to affordable housing projects in B.C. between 2018 and February 2020.

To hear the complete interview with Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart on The Early Edition, tap here.

With files from The Early Edition


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