Tent camp grows rapidly on Pandora Avenue in Victoria after drop-in centres closed due to COVID-19, March 26, 2020. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. tent camps persist as hotels, housing bought for homeless

Current estimate 40 camps, homeless counts stalled by COVID-19

Despite ongoing purchase and lease of hotels and motels around B.C., added to modular and other supportive housing projects, provincial officials estimate that the number of people living on streets and in tent camps is continuing to rise.

The B.C. NDP government has carried on an aggressive program driven for 15 years by former B.C. Liberal minister Rich Coleman, acquiring single-room occupancy hotels and adding food services and medical supports. Begun in Vancouver’s downtown east side, the program has extended to communities across B.C. That accelerated with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced closure of shelter and drop-in facilities and led to a new surge in tent camps.

Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson provided an overview of the expanding program in debate on his ministry’s $3.6 billion budget after the B.C. legislature’s pandemic-interrupted session resumed in late June. Simpson said the third year of the province-wide homeless count has been hampered by COVID-19 restrictions, but preliminary results show numbers rising as they did in 2019.

Simpson cautioned that homeless counts are a single-day snapshot gathered by local communities, and many people “living rough” either don’t want to be counted or are part of a long-running protest camp movement demanding government action.

“The encampments around the province — in our best estimate, there probably are about 40 locations around the province, with maybe as many as 1,000 to 1,200 people in those locations,” Simpson said June 25. “The numbers move. What we’re not certain about, of course, is the numbers of people where that would be people who are in significant need of housing and people who are there for activist purposes as well.”

RELATED: Coleman calls for political courage on mental illness

RELATED: B.C. orders Victoria tent campers into hotels

RELATED: B.C. distributes mobile phones to people on streets

B.C. Liberal critic Joan Isaacs questioned Simpson about the latest government purchases of hotels in Victoria and Vancouver, sparked by new tent camps that spread quickly this spring. On April 25, the province issued a public health order to clear growing camps at Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue in Victoria, and Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver.

B.C. Housing took over the Comfort Inn in Victoria and hotels in Vancouver including the American and Howard Johnson, the latter with 110 rooms bought for $55 million.

“Does the minister believe that the $500,000 per room — that’s what it turned out to be for Howard Johnson — is an efficient use of taxpayer dollars?” Isaacs asked.

Simpson didn’t answer directly, noting that the real estate program is run by B.C. Housing and is a project of multiple ministries, including housing and the health ministry, which pays for operating costs.

He estimated that 90 per cent of people in supportive housing are dealing with addiction to alcohol or other drugs, and a similar majority have mental health or brain injury issues.

The NDP program began in 2017 with provision of modular housing for communities such as Nanaimo where persistent tent camps with “wraparound services” including meals, primary health care and at four locations, supervised drug consumption sites.

“All of the facilities currently have the ability to support, through the health authorities and others, overdose prevention and services,” Simpson said. “Safe [drug] supply is available and being ramped up.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislatureCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vernon’s pump prices second lowest in B.C.

Gasoline prices range from 102.9-114.9 cents per litre in North Okanagan city

First degree murder charges for North Okanagan woman

59-year-old woman charged in Round Lake suspicious death incident

Community Champion: Jake and Mary Spoor feel blessed to give back to Vernon

As immigrants themselves, Mary and Jake understand how isolating it can feel in a new country

Get Outdoors!: Rattlesnakes Are Fascinating! Part 2

Columnist Roseanne Van Ee provides information about rattlesnakes in the North Okanagan

Dr. Henry art opens Lumby exhibit

Paper mache creation greets guests at Beyond the Mask show

B.C. records 146 new COVID-19 cases through long weekend

More that 28 people tested positive for the virus each day since Friday

COVID-19 vaccine efforts provide hope but no silver bullet to stop pandemic: Tam

There are more than two dozen vaccines for COVID-19 in clinical trials around the world

Passengers escape unharmed from destructive houseboat fire in Shuswap

Cause of blaze on Mara Lake under investigation, flames erupt at 2 a.m. Aug. 4

Alberta vehicles allegedly damaged in Summerland

Lug nuts loosened, windows smashed in several instances in Okanagan community

Interior Health reports nine new cases of COVID-19, 149 linked to Kelowna

Nine new cases were reported in the Interior Health region over the long weekend’s four reporting periods

Former Kelowna resident makes fundraising goal for cancer fertility treatments

Rebecca Hamilton recieved a boost in a battle against cancer - $25,000 for post chemo treatments

Study shines light on what makes LGBTQ+ youth feel safe in a community

The study goes beyond looking at school or family supports

Alberta to require masks at schools this fall, but still no mandate in B.C.

B.C. students are also set to return to classrooms in September

UPDATE: Water bombers attack wildfire north of Sicamous above Shuswap Lake

Wildfire BC reports fire is still classified out of control, 25 personnel on ground

Most Read