An open letter is urging the province find ways to house people who are experiencing homelessness. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

Experts, advocates urge province to provide more housing as second wave of COVID-19 looms

‘We need to stop chasing people who are homeless from one encampment to another’

As a potential second wave of COVID-19 looms, experts are calling on the province to release a plan this June on how to find permanent homes for all unhoused residents of B.C.

An open letter addressed to a number of officials in the provincial government is asking for more housing options for everyone who needs it as “current efforts only offer accommodation to a small proportion of people who are homeless.”

While some 2,700 units have been acquired across the province, the letter underlines that a variety of approaches and housing options will be needed, adding that the number of people experiencing homelessness is “likely double” than the 8,000 estimate.

“Some people will want to move to hotels quickly, and others will not. Moving to hotels must be voluntary, free from any perception or potential for coercion,” reads the letter. Pointing to the Homeless Encampment Protocol issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, which makes it clear that “while housing options are being mobilized, encampments should not be displaced.”

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“In Victoria, we have had five major encampments in five years: Super InTent City, Namegans, Pandora, Topaz, and Beacon Hill. We need to stop chasing people who are homeless from one encampment to another. We need an actual plan to end homelessness in B.C.,” said Nicole Chaland, a Victoria-based housing advocate.

The province recently purchased two hotels on the Island and while advocates say this is a good step, that action on a much broader scale is still urgently needed.

Housing for all must be a central part of preparatory public health measures throughout the pandemic states the letter, adding that group settings such as shelters or hotels “cannot adequately provide the space and support staff needed for physical distancing and regular hand washing.”

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The letter lays out a number of actions for the province to take such as unionizing housing support workers, cancelling rent debt that has been incurred as a result of lost income, along with suspending rent for the remainder of the state of emergency.

Another recommendation laid out by the letter is to focus economic recovery stimulus spending on building a “robust non-market housing system” that would see within six to 12 months, permanent housing provided with health and social care as needed to everyone in the province experiencing homelessness. This would be done “by converting hotels, motels, apartments, office buildings and any other appropriate properties into non-market housing,” along with “building permanent, high-quality, energy-efficient homes affordable to people who live on income support and minimum wage jobs.”

The letter has been signed by Victoria Coun. Sarah Potts, Coun. Sharmarke Dunbow and Coun. Ben Isitt, along with a number of organizations and individuals.

To view the full letter visit tinyurl.com/endhomelessnessbc.


 

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