Urgent Action Needed on Strathcona Park and other Homeless Encampments - A Joint Call for Action

Urgent action is needed to address the growing homelessness crisis, yet the federal government continues to drag their feet on this issue.

Numbers don’t lie. BC only got 0.5% of funds from finalized agreements through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund. Only two applications were finalized. It was absolutely shocking to see the numbers. The truth is, though, we already suspected that BC was not getting the kind of resources that we need to support and address our homelessness crisis.

Alberta and Quebec have been shut out of the fund altogether, while Ontario has received 94% of the nearly $1.5 billion so far.

To learn more about these figures, please read Dan Fumano's recent coverage of this important story in the Vancouver Sun.

In 2018, the federal government declared that housing is a basic human right, yet in Vancouver alone, more than 2,000 people are homeless. In early August, I hosted a virtual ​affordable housing roundtable with non-profit housing providers and other stakeholders across Canada, and the message is clear.  It is imperative that the recovery plan takes bold steps in addressing housing security. As stated by ​the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Canada is experiencing an increase in homelessness encampments, renters are left out of the equation, there is no federal leadership for people who can't afford rent while big financial actors who are already stationed in Canada are poised to sweep up distressed assets. ​​Jeff Morison, the Executive Director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA), added that “the pandemic has changed everything but have also changed nothing in terms of housing.”

In addition to needing to construct new affordable housing units, one of the most pressing issues raised in the roundtable was that without adequate investments to protect existing affordable housing stocks, affordable housing units are lost faster than the construction of new ones. It is estimated that 322,000 units of affordable housing were lost between 2011-2016, and the NHS is only providing 150,000 units over 10 years.

Based on data I’ve obtained from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, I was shocked to learn that as of January 2020, only 0.5% ($7.3 million) of the money coming from agreements that were finalized under the National Housing Co-Investment Fund has gone to applications in B.C., despite bring the province with the 2nd highest number of applications for this program. For comparison, over 94% ($1.4 billion) of these funds have gone to applications in Ontario, almost exclusively in Toronto. This program is supposed to provide federal funding for increasing affordable housing supply and is by far the largest part of the Liberal’s National Housing Strategy.

With such a dismal record, the Liberal government has turned to using funding that has been “committed” in order to meet their unambitious targets to reduce homelessness by 50% over 10 years, even though it includes applications where no agreement has been signed and don’t have access to the funds. Inflating the numbers with partially processed applications will not address the homelessness crisis. The Liberal government needs to stop playing games and take real action.

Since the early 2000s, Vancouver has witnessed more and more homeless residents ​living together in these encampments. Vancouver is not alone. ​Tim Richter, President and CEO of Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH), reported during the housing roundtable that the encampment situation has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, as people are leaving shelters.

Each time an encampment is formed, residents and community members living nearby raise concerns about the personal safety of themselves, their community, and of the campers. In addition, the rise of homeless encampments in parks has reduced the availability of green spaces for residents and community members, especially in urban settings where these spaces are scarce.

The most recent example is the large-scale homeless encampment established in Strathcona Park in mid-June. It was created when more than 180 people living in Crab Park since early May were dispersed with an injunction order from the federal Port of Vancouver without a decampment strategy. The latest data indicates that there are now over 360 tents in Strathcona Park, comprising single individuals, young couples, and seniors, with an estimate of 45 percent of the campers having Indigenous ancestry.

The Strathcona neighbourhood is home to many young families, social housing residents, refugees, and seniors, many of whom are low and modest income. At the same time, the neighbourhood is the oldest in Vancouver and many residents, including those who are residing in the encampment, are deeply connected to the community. It is a diverse neighbourhood that is loved by its members, making the current homelessness crisis and the escalating safety and park access concerns all the more heartbreaking.

It is abundantly clear that injunctions and moving campers from one site to another is an untenable strategy for dealing with the homeless crisis. To criminalize poverty and homelessness is inhumane and wrong. This latest encampment is only symptomatic of the chronic homeless crisis in Vancouver. That is why I firmly believe that the best solution for the homelessness crisis is permanent housing with appropriate supports.

On June 17th, the day that RCMP officers took action to enforce the injunction at the Port, I asked the minister responsible for housing to commit 50/50 cost sharing agreement with the Province to address the homelessness crisis.

To follow up with this call for action and to ensure the federal government hears our unified voice, on August 17, I, along with the Mayor of Vancouver and the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Vancouver Mount Pleasant, issued a joint letter to the federal government to take urgent action and step up efforts to address the homeless crisis by entering into a 50/50 cost sharing agreement with the Province to build more supportive housing and acquire new housing stock.

Since 2017, the Province has worked with municipalities to secure land and construct modular housing units to house vulnerable populations. In recent months, the Province has also purchased five hotels, two in Victoria and three in Vancouver, in recent months, as part of a strategy to house those in need. While the federal government has provided a small contribution toward the cost of the 660 modular housing units now open in Vancouver, this does not match the Province’s or City of Vancouver’s substantial investments. 

Given the severity of the crisis, neither the City of Vancouver nor the Province can address the challenge of homelessness alone. The federal government must partner with the Province of British Columbia through a 50/50 cost sharing partnership to facilitate the construction of affordable housing and the acquisition of housing stock to provide homes for Vancouverites and British Columbians.

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Applying Biometrics Exemptions during COVID-19 Pandemic

August 7, 2020

Sent to:

Ms. Catrina Tapley
Deputy Minister, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada



Dear Deputy Minister Catrina Tapley,

Following the emergency Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) meeting, I am writing to follow up with the issue of delays for individuals to complete their biometrics due to COVID-19. I raised this question directly to your attention during the June 17, 2020 emergency meeting of the CIMM Committee and have also raised this in writing to the Minister.

My office has received a significant amount of email from Vancouver East constituents and from people across the country whose immigration applications have been impeded because they have been unable to complete their biometrics. Given the ongoing impact of COVID-
19, there simply is no timeline or certainty as to when an individual would be able to have their biometrics completed. While I am appreciative of the fact that IRCC has extended the deadline to give biometrics and that IRCC will not close or refuse any application in progress, however, it remains that those unable to obtain their biometrics are in effect simply stuck in the system. This in turn means that their lives are effectively held in limbo.

Cost-sharing Plan with B.C. Provincial and Municipal Government Urgently Needed to Address Homelessness Crisis

July 29, 2020

Sent to: 

The Honourable Ahmed Hussen
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development



Minister Hussen,

I am writing urgently with regard to the need for the federal government to commit to working with the non-profits, provincial and municipal governments to address the housing and homelessness crisis, especially in light of a pandemic that has gripped the country and devastated the livelihoods of many Canadians.

The homelessness crisis is not only an affront to human rights, but also poses an enormous national public health risk. This puts the individuals and the communities they live in at risk. Despite the indisputable importance of housing, I am deeply concerned that your government’s National Housing Strategy (NHS) is woefully inadequate.

Based on the response to my order paper question submitted February 4th, 2020, it seems the largest component of the NHS, the National Housing Co-investment Fund (NHCF), has fallen short of expectations. I was shocked to learn that only 23 of 432 of submissions have finalized funding agreements. Even more troubling was the lack of funding outside of Ontario. Among these applications, over 50% of the finalized agreements were from Ontario and over 91% of the $1.47 billion in these agreements went to a single application in the City of Toronto.

Follow-up on Immigration Measures for Sikh and Hindu Communities in Afghanistan

July 27, 2020

Sent to:

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship

The Honourable Francois-Phillipe Champagne, P.C., M.P.



Minister Mendicino and Minister Champagne,

I am writing to join my voice with the concerns raised by the World Sikh Organization (WSO) regarding religious minorities being persecuted in Afghanistan, specifically Sikhs and Hindus. Their lives are constantly at risk as they are being targeted for attack, abduction and extortion by extremist groups in the region, such as ISIS Khorasan (ISIS-K).

As noted by the WSO, on March 25, 2020, ISIS-K terrorists attacked Gurdwara Sri Guru Har Rai Sahib in Kabul and murdered 25 Sikhs, including four-year-old Tania Kaur. At the funeral for the victims of this attack, a second attack was initiated involving the detonation of an explosive device. Earlier, in July 2018, the senior leadership of the Sikh and Afghan communities was assassinated in a suicide bombing that took 19 lives in Jalalabad. In June 2020, an Afghan Sikh, Nidan Singh Sachdeva, was abducted from a gurdwara and tortured for weeks. That was followed on July 17 by the abduction of 13-year-old Salmeet Kaur who was kidnapped from a Kabul gurdwara where she was living with her blind mother and younger brother. Salmeet’s father was killed in the March attack. ISIS-K has sworn to exterminate all Afghan Sikhs and Hindus if they do not leave Afghanistan.

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