Jan 24/08: Homeless, Housing Stats Disputed...
Minister Coleman's Figures are 'bogus' Says NDP Critic ...
Victoria mayor Alan Lowe called a Jan. 22 housing announcement a
"watershed" moment for the capital city in its fight against rising
homelessness, but critics say the province is overstating the amount
it is helping while continuing to underestimate the problem province
By Forest and Housing Minister Rich Coleman's count, the Victoria
announcement represents 170 "new and upgraded" units.
Doing the math while Coleman was still talking, NDP housing critic
David Chudnovsky said, "We have the announcement of 73 units of
housing today. That's what we have."
Mayor Lowe in an interview later said, "The net's 127."
City councillor Dean Fortin put the figure at 75 new units, but added
that while the announcement was small, at least it was positive. "For
the first time, we're seeing a step forward in the city of Victoria,"
he said. "It's a good news story for the city of Victoria. We've been
going backwards for the last six years."
To figure out what each person is talking about, it's necessary to
look at the details of the three projects:
* The 55-bed downtown Streetlink shelter will be closed and replaced
with an 80-bed shelter on Ellice Street, in the light industrial Rock
Bay area on the outskirts of downtown. The city's prostitution stroll
has also been pushed out of downtown into the area in the last decade.
* The Ellice Street facility, to be built on what is now a city park,
will also include 24 units of housing.
* The old Streetlink will be converted into 15 apartments. They will
be added to the neighbouring Swift House, which already has 26
* Finally, an existing B.C. Housing project on Humboldt Street will
see 14 cottage-like units bulldozed to make way for a new building
with 53 studio and one-bedroom units.
To get Coleman's and B.C Housing's 170 number, you have to include
shelter beds as "housing," and not subtract any of the beds or units
that are being lost.
Chudnovsky and Fortin's figures are closer to the mark. The net gain,
after accounting for units that either already exist or are closing,
is 79 housing units and 25 shelter beds.*
Coleman wasn't saying how much the government is spending on the three
projects, but Lowe said the commitment is $30 million. For each of the
units or shelter beds the city will gain, therefore, the province is
spending in the order of $380,000.
'It's about people'
During a scrum following the announcement, Coleman said, "It's not
about cutting a ribbon. It's about people."
But while Coleman's estimate of how many people his government is
helping is clearly high, he also may be underestimating the problem.
Asked by The Tyee just how many people are homeless in the province,
Coleman said, "The estimate I have from B.C. Housing is that between
4,500 and 5,500 are homeless at any given time in B.C."
B.C. Housing failed to confirm the minister's number or to say how it
was arrived at. The agency's spokesperson, Sam Rainboth, took the
question but did not call back by deadline.
Chudnovsky has been pushing Coleman since the fall to count how many
people are homeless in the province, but until Tuesday the minister
had refused a figure. "It is heartening that he's finally, after four
months, coming up with a number," Chudnovsky said. "His number is
bogus.... It's a preposterous number."
Opposition tallies 10,500 homeless
The critic has done his own count, relying on figures from
homelessness surveys and aid workers across the province. Victoria's
last survey counted 1,550 homeless, he said. Vancouver has 2,300.
Another 1,050 are on the streets of Prince George. In total, he said,
"We have more than 10,500 homeless."
That number is conservative, he added. In the survey, for instance, he
included 290 homeless people in Kelowna. But last week he was in the
Okanagan city and the municipal official responsible for social
development told him the number is closer to 500 there, he said. "When
we say our numbers are conservative, we're not kidding."
But even using Coleman's numbers, Chudnovsky said, it is clear there's
a long way to go. "He'd have to make 60 more announcements like this.
I don't see them coming."
Several homeless people who came to Tuesday's announcement at the
Downtown Activity Centre were barred from entering the hall.
"Again, it's closed doors," said Paul Burnside, a poet and homeless
person who was refused entry. "The people it's about aren't allowed to
David Arthur Johnston, a homeless man who is fighting the city's
anti-camping bylaws in court, was also left on the sidewalk. "It's
more crap that's not going to amount to anything," he said. "It's
going to amount to more suffering on the streets."
Rose Henry was allowed inside, where she filmed proceedings for the
Homeless Nation website. Henry has been homeless off and on in recent
years, though she now has a place to live. After hearing the minister
and mayor speak, she said, "It's not enough, but I want to give the
city credit for taking the initiative at this point."
A member of the ad hoc Committee to End Homelessness, Phil Lyons, said
at least six others from his group had been turned away. "The security
on the door was making a judgement call," he said, basing their
decisions on people's appearances. Once inside, he was disappointed by
what he heard, he said. "This is a token operation. They're doing a
very little bit to show they've done something for homeless people."