On Sunday, the Ministry of Housing provided an update on the Province's plan to support those living in encampments in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver, a divisive issue that became a major talking point during last year's municipal election.
The Province is now aiming to open 330 new housing units in the Vancouver DTES between now and the end of June, with hopes that the new injection of housing will reduce the number of people in the area sleeping in tents.
Of those 330 new homes, 89 are expected to be delivered across two modular housing buildings as soon as Spring 2023, and will be located at 1525-1535 Western Street and 2142 Ash Street. Not included in the 330 housing units are the 139 Single Room Occupancy (SRO) units that have been in the works since July 2022.
According to the Province, the number of tents -- or "structures," as the Province and City of Vancouver call them -- peaked at about 180 along East Hastings Street in July. That number is now approximately 117, and the Province says that it has offered indoor spaces to a majority of those still on the streets, with upwards of 90 people accepting those offers.
"Everyone in the Downtown Eastside deserves a safe, stable and supportive place to call home," said Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon on Sunday. "Over the past several months, we've led work with Indigenous, community, and government partners to develop a coordinated response plan to help people get off the streets and into homes, and make the Downtown Eastside a healthier, safer and more hopeful place for everyone. As safety concerns increase, we are urging people to take up the offers of indoor spaces that are available right now as we continue to open long-term housing."
Ahead of those 330 new homes, the Province says it will also work with the City of Vancouver to secure sufficient shelter space to continue helping others move indoors and eventually transition to permanent housing once it becomes available.
According to the Province's Vancouver DTES Provincial Partnership Plan, updated as of March 2023, the Province will also support those people with a new Supported Rent Supplement Program, providing financial aid to up to 150 people, with priority given to those living in encampments and Indigenous people.
Additionally, six Assertive Community Treatment teams from Vancouver Coastal Health will be accessible to the DTES population, providing recovery-oriented services for those experiencing substance-use or mental health disorders. The first 45 beds of St. Paul's Hospital's Road to Recovery program are also expected to open by Fall 2023.
A new Community Connections Hub will be established at 341 Gore Avenue to serve as a central location where individuals can access information about housing and related services, as well as referrals.
"Encampments across the province are indicative of the continuing impacts of the toxic drug and
housing crises, poverty, crime, discrimination, mental health issues and stigma against those that are
most vulnerable," the Province says in its DTES response plan.
The Province is taking an approach to alleviating these issues by preserving and improving existing housing units while simultaneously increasing funding towards programs that can add to the supply of housing.