Numbers released Monday by a Metro Vancouver task force on homelessness show the Township of Langley and City of Langley are among nine Metro municipalities reporting larger homeless camps that have more than four people.
The Township reported “two to three” larger camps, while the City reported one.
Officials at both municipalities said those figures were from last year, before a temporary expansion of the shelter at the Gateway of Hope in Langley City, which reduced the number of people living in camps in the Langleys and eliminated the larger camps.
Township manager of community and council initiatives Bill Storie told the Times the reported numbers fluctuated depending on when municipal staff closed down encampments, while City Chief Administrative Officer Francis Cheung, a member of the Metro task force, said the one large camp in the City was cleared out after the expansion at Gateway.
Storie said the larger Township camps were located near McLeod Athletic Park and the skateboard park near 203 Street, while Cheung said the larger City camp was located on the Nicomekl floodplain near 208 Street and Fraser Highway.
Vancouver had the most confirmed large camps at three, followed by the Township with two-to-three, then Maple Ridge, North Vancouver and Delta, which all reported two camps each, while Surrey, Burnaby, Coquitlam and the City each reported one larger camp apiece.
The survey found there were 70 smaller homeless encampments, of four or fewer persons each, reported in Metro Vancouver.
The task force report made 12 recommendations to combat homelessness in the region, again calling on the provincial and federal governments to create and fund a provincial poverty reduction plan.
The report called for measures to prevent people from becoming homeless, to help them if they become homeless, and to get them back into housing.
“The research unequivocally demonstrates a complete system-wide failure in the social services network designed to assist the most vulnerable in the region,” said Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read, who helped lead the effort with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who said local governments are doing all they can.
“Despite our best efforts, the homelessness crisis is spiraling out of control and the upcoming homeless count is expected to show a dramatic increase region-wide,” Robertson said.
The report recommended expanding home care for people with chronic health issues and addictions, and adding social housing units – key factors of homelessness, it said, that are outside local government jurisdiction
Other ideas include the province immediately opening 1,000 transitional housing units by the end of this year, and another 1,000 for 2018 and 2019 and increasing the shelter allowance and rent supplements to reflect the current market conditions.
The report cites a Simon Fraser University study that estimated it costs $55,000 per person per year to leave someone homeless in British Columbia compared to $37,000 to house them.
The task force report estimates approximately five people will become homeless within the region each week.
It says about 4,000 people are in immediate need of housing now, while the number of unsheltered homeless has jumped 26 per cent annually since 2011.
The report comes one month before the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count.
– with files from Black Press