Encampments, and the role of the province and local governments in the Capital Region

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The Provincial Government’s homelessness plan, Belonging in BC, was released April 3, 2023.

It correctly points out the decades-old causes of the humanitarian disaster on our streets: short-sighted spending cuts that were ideologically and politically motivated – “years where homelessness tripled, due to a lack of investment in housing, and aggressive cuts to mental health and addictions services and supports for at-risk youth that left an entire generation to grow up without supports.”

Belonging in BC notes that it is a “comprehensive Homelessness Plan for the Province.” It outlines billions in spending and includes, among other things:

  • Complex care housing
  • Supporting youth transitions from care, including new rent supports
  • Rapid, coordinated, multidisciplinary responses when encampments arise
  • Permanent housing
  • Support for people in encampments – to stay safe and healthy as homes get built, and to transition to housing
  • Resources for community-based homelessness responses and research
  • Homelessness Community Action Grants

It also notes the Premier’s mandate to the new Minister of Housing to “Expand on the new homelessness supports launched in Budget 2022, including long-term housing to address encampments.”

Everyone sees that all of the above are much needed in Victoria, immediately. And I commend the province for acknowledging what it needs to do. It’s no small order, reversing massive spending cuts.

The Role of Local Governments

Belonging in BC mentions several times the Government’s collaborative, partnership-based approach with organizations including local governments.

Of course, the main power of local governments in preventing and reducing homelessness is to approve land use, thus enabling supportive housing and deeply affordable housing to be built.

Local governments don’t have the resources or the mandate to provide complex care, rapid responses and supports for encampments, supportive housing, affordable housing, etc. Providing those resources is up to the province.

Within the Capital Region, in recent years, Victoria has been doing its part in the collaborative partnership – actively approving supportive and deeply affordable housing. And I expect we will continue to do so.

However, other local governments will need to make fair contributions as well. Some are stepping forward, which is encouraging. However, all of them need to take action, and more quickly.

The Provincial Government is aware of the outsized contribution that Victoria has been making. I expect that it will be introducing policy measures and/or actions this fall to facilitate supportive and deeply affordable housing in all areas throughout the Capital Region, and will be watching the announcements in coming months.