Spencer Chandra Herbert: Working together to end homelessness

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Georgia Straight, Vancouver's News and Entertainment Weekly

The first temporary modular-housing project opened at 220 Terminal Avenue—now, there are more than 2,000 units completed or under construction. City of Vancouver

Homelessness has been hurting too many people in our province for too long.

Thousands of British Columbians are without a home. They are living on the streets, in parks, tents, shelters, or cars. Homelessness hurts the health of our communities, our economy, it hurts those stuck in the cycle of poverty, it hurts all of us. As study after study shows keeping people homeless costs us all more than acting to bring our neighbours inside.

And we must remember that given the right set of circumstances—or rather, the wrong string of bad luck—any one of us could end up homeless.

I think about this, and I think about people like Pietro, Dave, Sandy, and Carl. People whom I’ve met at the depths of desperation. People who ended up homeless due to renoviction, disability, getting sick, and losing their jobs. People fleeing abuse, people who tried to do everything right, but fell through the cracks of a safety net with too many holes to catch them. People I’ve helped get off the street and into homes.

People who want and deserve a chance at a better life.

I meet with homeless constituents where they are—whether it’s in the middle of the woods in Stanley Park, or at the bus-stop shelter on Davie—to see if my office can help connect them with housing, and to learn how they ended up homeless in the first place so I can advocate for solutions to get us closer to an end to homelessness. I’ve been fighting for change for years, and with our new government we are finally getting action.

Under the former B.C. Liberal government, the response to widespread calls for help were usually “no, no, and no”. The provincial government refused to take any serious action on housing affordability and poverty, and meanwhile, more and more of our neighbours ended up on the street. At one point the former government even told people struggling to afford housing to just leave their communities and move.

It was a clear failure of leadership. British Columbians deserve better.

I’m proud to be part of a government that is committed to tackling homelessness and housing affordability head-on. We finally have a government that is saying “yes” to solutions and “yes” to change.

Spencer Chandra Herbert (right) was accompanied by West End tenants when he announced that the province was stopping landlords from raising rents by large amounts to catch up with neighbouring buildings.
Spencer Chandra Herbert (right) was accompanied by West End tenants when he announced that the province was stopping landlords from raising rents by large amounts to catch up with neighbouring buildings.
Charlie Smith

After only 18 months in government, we have over 2,000 modular homes built or under construction across B.C., and an additional 2,700 new homes for people dealing with homelessness or at risk of homelessness on the way. And it’s working. With 1,000 modular homes already open, we are getting people who are homeless out of the cold, and into supportive housing.

My experience has taught me that if we want to end homelessness, we have to get people off the street and into housing, but more importantly we have to work to stop people ending up on the street in the first place. Otherwise it’s a revolving door—you get one person off the street, only to have another take their place.

In addition to building more affordable and supportive housing, we are working to address the root causes of homelessness, including poverty, mental health, and addiction.

To lift thousands of people out of poverty, we’ve legislated poverty reduction targets and launched TogetherBC, B.C.’s first poverty reduction strategy.

TogetherBC recognizes the urgency of our homelessness crisis and includes a wide range of actions to tackle homelessness and poverty. This includes increasing income and disability assistance rates, increasing the minimum wage, cutting child-care costs, and increasing subsidies for our rental assistance program for seniors and working families—all of which helps prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

TogetherBC also invests $10 million to support rent banks to help renters at risk of losing their homes keep them. I know this will help, as it’s a strategy I helped get started in Vancouver where it’s already helped keep hundreds from becoming homeless.

Many of us have been working on ending homelessness for decades as it’s not only the right thing to do economically, it’s the right thing to do for our souls.

Solving B.C.’s homelessness crisis will require sustained action and collaboration, political will, and committed hearts. But I’m hopeful because, for the first time in 16 years, we have a government determined to break the cycle of poverty and lift people up. So let’s keep working and get this done.

Spencer Chandra Herbert is the MLA for Vancouver-West End.