OPEN LETTER: Urgent Housing Crisis

As you know, the lack of access to safe, secured affordable housing in Vancouver has been a longstanding challenge. This was brought on by the cancellation of the National Housing Program in 1993 and the lack of action by successive federal governments to invest in the development of social housing. The pandemic in the last 2 years and the current heat wave has further exacerbated the situation. The latest available data indicates there are currently over 2,000 identified homeless individuals in the city, and a disproportionate number of them identify as Indigenous.
In my previous correspondence with you, I have outlined the seriousness of the housing crisis in Vancouver and called for federal action. Today, I am reiterating calls for action.
Since 2018, we have seen in our community, large scale homeless encampments erected by the unhoused, first in Oppenheimer Park, then in Crab Park, followed by Strathcona Park. In August of 2020, I issued a joint open letter with MLA Mark and Mayor Kennedy calling for the federal government to urgently address the housing crisis by entering into a 50/50 cost sharing agreement with the province to build more supportive housing and acquire new housing stock

August 3, 2022

The Honourable Ahmed Hussen
Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Via email: [email protected] Dear Minister Hussen,

Open Letter Re: Urgent Housing Crisis

As the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East and the NDP Critic for Housing, I am writing to you with urgency regarding the ongoing housing crisis in the Downtown Eastside and to call for Federal leadership and commitment to address this grave situation.

As you know, the lack of access to safe, secured affordable housing in Vancouver has been a longstanding challenge. This was brought on by the cancellation of the National Housing Program in 1993 and the lack of action by successive federal governments to invest in the development of social housing. The pandemic in the last 2 years and the current heat wave has further exacerbated the situation. The latest available data indicates there are currently over 2,000 identified homeless individuals in the city, and a disproportionate number of them identify as Indigenous.

In my previous correspondence with you, I have outlined the seriousness of the housing crisis in Vancouver and called for federal action. Today, I am reiterating calls for action.

Since 2018, we have seen in our community, large scale homeless encampments erected by the unhoused, first in Oppenheimer Park, then in Crab Park, followed by Strathcona Park. In August of 2020, I issued a joint open letter with MLA Mark and Mayor Kennedy calling for the federal government to urgently address the housing crisis by entering into a 50/50 cost sharing agreement with the province to build more supportive housing and acquire new housing stock as part of the decampment strategy. Sadly, the Federal government did not respond to this urgent call for support.

After a prolonged period, as the situation became increasingly untenable, the Provincial government managed to allocate substantive provincial resources to secure housing options for the unhoused, including the acquisition of vacant hotels. While the decampment of Oppenheimer Park and Strathcona Park were supported by the Provincial government with a decampment strategy, there was no such strategy for the decampment of Crab Park, which is located on Port of Vancouver lands.

Two years have passed since the Strathcona encampment was established, and sadly the situation has not improved. Currently, there are approximately 70 residents living at an encampment at Crab Park. In recent weeks, the homelessness crisis has come to a boiling point, as an increasing number of tents and structures are set up along East Hastings Street. Just last week, on July 25th, Vancouver’s Fire Chief issued an order to immediately remove these tents and structures, citing serious fire safety concerns. A statement from the City of Vancouver indicates that this situation in the Downtown East Side has grown increasingly unsafe since the beginning of July due to decreased accessibility and increased structures, and that if a fire were to break out, it would be devastating.

Yet, these tents along East Hastings Street provide shelter to approximately 400 unhoused community members who have no other place to go and who are experiencing the effects of another summer heat wave. Many community members are also dealing with serious physical and mental health conditions, while struggling to meet basic needs on no or little income.

The longstanding history of injunctions and moving campers from one location to another is an untenable strategy to resolve this crisis. It is imperative that the Federal government show leadership on this issue and take actions necessary to address the housing and homelessness crisis in our communities.

I am therefore calling on the federal government to re-establish the Vancouver Agreement – a tripartite initiative that brought all levels of government together to support social, economic and community development in Vancouver, with a specific focus on the Downtown East Side. We need an urgent and concerted effort between all levels of government working in collaboration with local non-governmental organizations to address the challenges in our community, with urgent interventions to find safe housing and supports for people in crisis, and long-term systemic solutions to address the needs of the community. The status quo simply cannot continue.

I share with you a snapshot of photos of the encampments for your reference. Lastly, I would also like to extend an invitation for you to tour Crab Park the next time you are in Vancouver for a media opportunity.

I look forward to your reply and to working with you on this urgent matter. Sincerely,

Jenny Kwan
MP for Vancouver East NDP Critic for Housing

encl.

 

 

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