Shelters still needed after Olympics

During the recent Olympic Games in Vancouver, our province got an amazing opportunity to showcase the beautiful place we live, our friendly hospitality and celebrate world-class athleticism on an international scale.

In preparation for this spectacular party, a lot of money was spent beautifying Vancouver so the coastal city could be a gracious and impressive host.

Part of that process involved setting up several new winter homeless shelters to avoid having people sleeping on the streets while international guests were looking on. Clearly, these shelters did not solve the problem of homelessness in the region, but they at least provided a warm, safe place to spend the night.

A count conducted in Vancouver last month shows the city has an increase of 12 percent in its homeless population since two years ago with more than 1,800 individuals who have no place to live. Fortunately, with the recent addition of 600 shelter beds for the Olympics only about 400 people are actually sleeping on the streets each night.

Right now the city is worried the provincial government may close down the new shelter spots – sending many people back to the street.

Obviously, homelessness is a big problem across our province. Amongst the homeless there are elevated rates of mental illness and addiction as well as a very high mortality rate (three to four times the norm) and risk of complication from other health problems.

Aside from the obvious human cost of people living with little hope, dignity or personal safety, we shouldn’t underestimate the enormous financial cost homelessness places on emergency services, crisis health care, law enforcement and the judicial system.

Improving socioeconomic factors such as housing, nutrition and safety are critical if we want to effectively solve the problem of homelessness. More affordable housing is important – but since we haven’t got enough in place yet – emergency shelters are still vital. The increased shelter space in Vancouver is having a documented positive effect on criminal and disorderly behaviour as well as the health status of those who benefit from it.

Now that the international spotlight has left our province, I hope we don’t go backward in the progress we have made. We need to continue to look out for our more vulnerable citizens and ensure that everyone in our province has the best chance to live healthy and productive lives.

We must encourage all levels of government not to look the other way when it comes to the homeless in our community. Vancouver should keep many of the new shelter spaces until they are no longer needed because of increased affordable housing and social services.

Poverty is indeed something we should be ashamed of – and it is within our power to do something about it.


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