Findings from the recently-released Preliminary Report on the 2014 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count call for an ongoing commitment to meet the needs of particularly vulnerable populations like those in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, according to senior staff of The Bloom Group.
“Of course we are disappointed to hear there are more people on Vancouver streets,” said Executive Director Jonathan Oldman of the tri-annual homeless count. “There are real people behind these numbers – people who deserve a safe and stable place to live. Ultimately, we are talking not about statistics, but about people’s right to security and self-determination.”
“But now is not the time to resign ourselves to the status quo,” said Oldman. “Now is the time to re-double our efforts and work together to provide accessible housing options to the individuals and families behind these numbers.”
Some of the social dynamics that create homelessness – real estate pressures in one of the world’s most expensive cities, for example, and growing demands on mental health and addiction services – have played a significant role in offsetting the real housing gains that government and non-profits efforts have realized in recent years.
“Still, nobody would want to imagine the far more dire situation we’d be in today without those efforts, and without other initiatives still under development,” said Oldman.
Oldman also noted the homeless count is a single, imperfect snapshot in time, while the issues are complex, interdependent, and frequently inter-generational.
“We see this report as a timely reminder that addressing homelessness is not any one person or agency’s responsibility, said Oldman, “and encourage an ongoing commitment and investment from the various government and private groups working together to deal with homelessness in our community.”
“We must all work cooperatively and creatively over the long haul to affect change on a systemic level,” he continued. “While we are working hard to build new housing infrastructure, we must also create the infrastructure for successful cross-sector and cross-agency collaborations to deal with underlying issues such as mental illness and addictions, poverty, violence against women and other forms of trauma, and youth aging out of foster care.”
Senior staff at The Bloom Group agree the report provides reasons to be cautiously optimistic. There has been a drop in women’s homelessness, for example, which indicates investments in more shelter and permanent housing for women and women-led families – including those of The Bloom Group’s donors – are starting to make a difference.
Still, Director of Women and Children’s Programs Trudi Shymka, noted that the number of homeless children has risen since 2011.
“This tells us there is a need for more affordable housing for families, and for spaces that support families to stay together during a crisis or transition.” At The Bloom Group’s Springhouse residence, for example, children of any age and gender are welcome to stay with their mothers, a unique characteristic that makes Springhouse an especially inclusive space for families.
Staff at The Bloom Group were also disappointed to learn that rates of homelessness among Aboriginal peoples, youth and seniors – three particularly vulnerable groups – are on the rise.
“And yet, Oldman said, “we are encouraged that our current work and partnerships will help address these issues directly.”
One such project is The Bloom partnership to help house at-risk Aboriginal youth in a new affordable housing complex at 250 Powell Street. The Bloom Group is partnering with ACCESS (Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society) and their BladeRunners program to ensure 37 of the new 96 units in the former Remand Centre are earmarked for BladeRunners participants. These include at-risk Aboriginal youth receiving employment training in the trades and construction industry. The new facility will open in 2015.
Further along the age spectrum, staff at The Bloom Group have foreseen changing needs in the housing sector as the population ages, Oldman said, citing the organization’s philosophy of supporting our most vulnerable people to “age in place,” or to live into their elder years within the supportive and comfortable community they have created.
“This approach is an important part of preventing seniors from becoming homeless, or having to return to the streets in their old age,” said Oldman. This approach is integrated into several of The Bloom Group’s mental health and supportive housing programs, as well as its senior’s pension management program.
Ultimately, said Oldman, the goals of the The Bloom Group go far beyond a reduction of numbers in a count.
“Our goal is to support individuals in our community to experience a higher quality of life, and to increase the availability of options that best serve their needs, whatever those may be. It is only through carrying out our work on the ground, every day, that we are able to form relationships with our community members, come to know the faces behind the statistics, and truly evaluate the extent to which we are meeting their needs.”
“We care about our community members’ definition of success,” added Shymka, “and the extent to which they are supported to achieve it. That is what matters most to us.”
For more information, contact:
Lesley Anderson, Director of Resource Development and Communications