Homelessness plan needed said Auditor General

Government lacks clear profile of population

Jonathan Fowlie
Vancouver Sun

The provincial government currrently has no accurate method to track the number of homeless people in the province.

The provincial government currrently has no accurate method to track the number of homeless people in the province.

The B.C. government lacks a comprehensive plan to deal with homelessness, Auditor-General John Doyle said in a highly critical report released Thursday, adding that he believes homelessness in B.C. is getting worse.

Photograph by
Ward Perrin
Vancouver Sun

“We expected
government to have an understanding of the causes and patterns of homelessness and to be aware of where key gaps in programs and services existed,” said Doyle’s report, titled Homelessness: Clear Focus Needed.

“Instead, we found that government lacks a clear profile of the homeless population,” he said, pointing out that the government has not developed a mechanism to ensure a steady and reliable count of B.C.’s homeless.

Overall, Doyle’s report found the government “does not have a comprehensive plan for addressing homelessness,” that its “goals and objectives for the homeless are unclear” and that it has “no overall measure or target in place to define success.”

Doyle said the government has not integrated information on all the services it provides to the homeless, making it difficult to identify potential gaps or omissions.

Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman said he did not agree with many of the findings.

“I have a comprehensive plan and I don’t think we’ve failed to address homelessness,” he said, adding that he is “proud of the government’s record” on the issue.

Coleman pointed to his announcement earlier this week of a Homelessness Intervention Project as evidence that the government is moving towards a more streamlined and integrated model for services.

He said the project, which puts him in charge of all homelessness-related initiatives, will soon be introducing performance targets to measure progress.

“Within 90 days, we’ll set some standards for that and we’ll start measuring every 30 days and delivering on those goals,” Coleman said.

He also said he thinks homelessness is declining, not rising as the auditor-general suggested in his report. But he agreed with Doyle that there are no reliable numbers to back either side of the argument.

Doyle’s report pointed to surveys, budget consultations and reports by government staff to support his statement that homelessness is growing.

Coleman said he relies on information coming from community organizations and other stakeholders.

“I talk to people on the Downtown Eastside or in communities across B.C. where we are doing things and they say things are working much better,” he said, adding that outreach workers have connected 4,600 people with housing supports over the past 18 months.

Mark Townsend, of the Portland Hotel Society on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, would not say whether he thinks the situation has improved or worsened, but did say he believes the government is committed to the issue.

“I believe that sincerely, Coleman and the premier and [B.C. Housing CEO] Shane Ramsey really want to tackle this problem,” Townsend said.

But, he said, implementation of measures to relieve homelessness is complicated and it can be difficult to ensure the vision becomes reality.

“I think it gets lost in the process,” he said. “I think it gets lost in things that involve accountability.”

New Democratic Party critic Jenny Kwan said she believes the homelessness problem is growing, and that the government is not doing enough to address the problem.

“What we have is an ad hoc approach to the homelessness crisis. What we have is one-time initiatives and that’s simply not good enough,” Kwan said.

“What we need is measurable targets, objectives and timelines. We need a permanent housing program to end the homelessness crisis,” she said.

Doyle’s report included recommendations that the government:

– Develop a comprehensive plan to address homelessness.

– Work with municipalities to get reliable and consistent homeless counts.

– Gather information on services offered to identify potential gaps.

– Set targets and develop programs to meet them.

– Improve reporting to make it easier to determine if progress is being made.

Coleman said that while he disagrees with some elements of the report, he thinks Doyle “makes some good points.”

“We’ll take them into consideration as we go forward,” he said.

Coleman said his goal now is to end homelessness in five years.

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