July 25, 2014
Hon. Rich Coleman
Minister Responsible for Housing
Room 128, Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4
OPEN LETTER RE: HOMELESSNESS IN VANCOUVER AND OPPENHEIMER PARK ENCAMPMENT
Dear Minister Coleman,
I write to you today to bring forward the cases of multiple constituents who are homeless and currently camping in Oppenheimer Park. Campers have compiled a list of names of 40 people who are currently homeless and camping at the park. I have spoken with many of these constituents directly and provide their information to you in order to assist with urgent placement in appropriate housing. The composition of this group of people is diverse. To give you a glimpse of the make-up of the campers; they are singles, couples, men and women, seniors; some are individuals with disabilities or serious chronic illnesses; some have struggled with addictions. There is an expectant woman who is expecting to deliver her baby later this year. Attached are letters outlining the details of individual cases for your review and response.
As you know, the costs of homelessness – the personal costs to individual health and well-being, as well as the cost to the province and to supporting organizations & charities – are enormous when compared with the alternatives. The constituents that I spoke with talked about the extraordinary barriers that they have faced in securing housing including: poverty; the very high market rent rates in Vancouver when compared to their limited or fixed incomes; health challenges that restrict their ability to accept some units; very long wait times to access BC Housing or other affordable housing developments; as well as substandard housing conditions, such as mould and bedbug infestations. Many that I spoke with are Aboriginal, and some have been looking for a home for years.
Similarly, some campers said that seeking a temporary placement in emergency shelters is not always an option that works for every individual; some of the concerns raised included concerns about health and safety; concerns about maintaining sobriety where a different neighbourhood setting would be more appropriate; and the relative lack of shelter spaces where a couple can remain together. One Aboriginal man said that shelters remind some elders of their traumatic residential school experiences, showing a clear need for expanded culturally appropriate shelter facilities.
In coming together, the campers are seeking relative safety and support with and amongst each other. One member of the community, a woman, said of the encampment: “When we are together, we are safe”. There is strong support within our community for the campers, and for the need to provide long-term solutions that would address the housing situation of the campers and others in similar situations. I understand that City of Vancouver elected officials recently met with campers as well, and have indicated that they believe that responsibility for providing housing is an issue of provincial jurisdiction. There is no question that an effective approach to ending homelessness requires the partnership of all levels of government via a long term comprehensive strategy.
For the immediate present, I appeal to your Ministry to provide urgent assistance. Offers of secure, affordable, and appropriate housing would go a long way to ensuring the well-being of these constituents. I am committed to working cooperatively in any way possible to ensure that individuals facing homelessness in our community are able to access housing in a timely manner. I look forward to your response.
Jenny Kwan, MLA
Vancouver – Mount Pleasant
cc: Shayne Ramsay, CEO BC Housing