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)

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

Just Posted

Hundreds gathered at Surrey’s Holland Park Friday (June 11) in memory of the Muslim family killed in London, Ont. on Sunday (June 6). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Educating public ‘exhausting,’ says White Rock Muslim Association past president

Asad Syed says public needs to be more vocal in their condemnation

People were lined up around the fields at a drop-in vaccine clinic at Newton Athletic Park on Tuesday (April 27, 2021), which is one of the high-transmission neighbourhoods that are being given vaccine priority. This clinic was one of at least three to open in the city on Tuesday. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey’s weekly cases continue to drop, push for 80% vaccination rate citywide

BCCDC reports 263 cases for Surrey the week of May 30 to June 5

White Rock artist Rod Kerr’s charmingly simplified graphic style and bold colours will be showcased at The Gallery Central Plaza through July. (Contributed photo)
White Rock artist offers bold originals and ‘Fabulous Fakes’

Rod Kerr’s work showcased at The Gallery, Central Plaza during July

The City of White Rock turns 63 today. (file photo)
City of White Rock 2020 annual report available for review

Report to be discussed at June 28 council meeting

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Cruise ship passengers arrive at Juneau, Alaska in 2018. Cruise lines have begun booking passengers for trips from Seattle to Alaska as early as this July, bypassing B.C. ports that are not allowed to have visitors until March 2022 under a Canadian COVID-19 restrictions. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
B.C. doesn’t depend on U.S. law to attract cruise ships, Horgan says

Provinces to get update next week on Canada’s border closure

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province's fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

Most Read