By Rich Coleman
Minister Responsible for Housing
VANCOUVER - As the Province helps the Portland Hotel Society to restructure, I feel it is important to remind British Columbians that close to 50 other agencies deliver a wide range of programs and services to some of society's poorest, most troubled individuals on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES).
These agencies employ hundreds of staff and manage thousands of social housing units.
They are unsung heroes, who deserve our appreciation and respect because they deal with the problems that go beyond many of our families’ ability to manage.
They work on outreach teams that connect people with housing, and help to deliver health care and mental health and addictions services. Last year, outreach teams connected more than 800 individuals to housing and supports. In fact, between 2008 and 2012, the number of unsheltered homeless in Vancouver had decreased by more than 60%.
Non-profits, their staff and volunteers run emergency shelters and drop-in centres where people without a home can warm up, get something to eat and find out about other services that may be available to help stabilize their lives. Non-profits enabled us to expand the number of emergency shelter spaces in Vancouver from 419 in 2006, to 639 today.
They provide counselling, job training and income supports necessary to build people’s independence and help them become more productive members of society.
Community organizations have the experience and in-depth local knowledge needed to deliver services that create results in some of the toughest circumstances imaginable. They help us to achieve what many thought was impossible.
Today, through their efforts, we have added close to 3,000 new units of supportive housing, in single room occupancy hotels purchased to protect an important source of affordable housing and in new developments built across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
Together, we continue to add new housing units for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
In reality, no single agency or level of government can take full credit for the positive outcomes we have seen in the DTES and across the province. It is a network of partners working towards a common goal. Partnerships are essential.
The approach I have always taken is to work with agencies and help them be successful. If an issue is identified, we will respond proportionally, to safeguard public funds and protect services.
Our partners know full well that donors and the public expect their donations and their tax dollars are being spent for their intended purposes. We share that viewpoint, so we work with our non-profits to help them to employ due diligence so that public funds are spent appropriately.
Unfortunately, once in a while we find ourselves in the position of having to hold a non-profit accountable for its actions. When that happens good work in the community, services that support those in need, and some remarkable progress can suffer.
A provincial audit of the Portland Hotel Society (PHS) is one such organization. Its spending practices have tarnished PHS’ image and cast a shadow over a lot of good work being done by many of its employees and other organizations in the non-profit sector.
In response, we put in place a new, highly professional and capable Board of Directors who will hire a new management team with the proper values and administrative skills necessary to do the job right this time. I am optimistic the new Board can renew the organization in a way that does not adversely affect clients.
Together I am also confident our network of service providers can continue to improve the housing and services available for low income individuals on the DTES and throughout the province. Together, we will push the status quo and pursue new ideas. Our housing first policy was untested when we launched Housing Matters BC in 2006. It has paid dividends beyond what can be measured on a balance sheet. It has saved lives.
I value the commitment and dedication of all our partners, their staff and volunteers. The province will continue to work with them to protect services and develop new supports that help people stabilize and rebuild their lives.
As the Minister responsible for Housing since 2005, I am proud of what has been accomplished and honoured to work with these people and organizations. Thank you for making such a difference in the lives of so many.