The city of Vancouver’s elected leaders are struggling to address the growing segment of the city’s population that lacks a safe place to sleep each night. To help provide guidance, they turned to the contrarian leader of San Diego’s Alpha Project, who believes that we need to create barriers to day shelter programs.
These barriers will ultimately exclude people struggling with untreated mental illness or substance use disorders, rather than provide the necessary health care and social service support to help people regardless of their challenges. The Alpha Project report doesn’t cite any evidence for their approach and ignores dozens of scientific studies to the contrary. It also contradicts the revised plan on homelessness that San Diego recently adopted.
The history of Vancouver’s Navigation Center is simple, but appears to have been forgotten in today’s debate. The cost of housing had been rapidly rising the previous five years, leading to a large increase in the amount of people in our community struggling with housing costs and those who fell into homelessness.
People on fixed incomes had been especially hard hit. Our homeless crisis response system, which includes outreach teams, emergency shelters, and short- and long-term housing assistance, did not have enough capacity to meet the demand. Without sufficient resources, our community began to struggle with the impact of larger numbers of people sleeping outside, without access to basic needs like a bathroom or shower. Neighborhoods and businesses felt the impact through increases in human waste, trash, and drug paraphernalia.
The Vancouver City Council decided that, while working on the long-term issues of housing affordability, creating more supportive housing for people with complex health conditions and scaling our homeless crisis response system, they also needed to address the short-term problem that people needed a place where they could meet their basic needs while lessening the impact on neighborhoods and businesses — a day center.