Call for Immediate Action to House All Unhoused BC Residents

A number of organizations that advocate on behalf of people who are homeless and extremely vulnerable in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, wrote to BC provincial government Ministers, BC Housing & the Vulnerable Populations Working Group, British Columbia Mayors and Councillors, and British Columbia Chief Health Officer Bonnie Henry on April 9. In the letter they outlined their demands for emergency housing for "all unhoused and inadequately housed residents in British Columbia."

The letter reads, in part:

"We write to request immediate action to address the threat of COVID-19 for people who are unhoused and inadequately housed in British Columbia. The important actions to date are simply not sufficient to protect the health and safety of people who are unable to engage in physical distancing or self-isolation for lack of self-contained housing.

"The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing calls the refuge of a home the 'front line defence' against COVID-19. Public health directives across Canada are clear that 'staying home' is the primary way to protect both personal and public health in this epidemic. As you are well-aware, for those who have been denied access to basic housing, income, and social supports -- these directives are impossible to follow."

In reference to actions taken by the provincial government to date, the advocates point out that "since the start of this emergency the Province has only acquired some 900 spaces for unhoused people to physical-distance, self-isolate and quarantine -- this when we know there is a bare minimum of 7,655 unhoused people in BC. What's more, the Provincial Government acknowledges 'more rooms have been identified' but they will only use them 'if a need is identified by health authorities.' It is unconscionable that any emergency housing is being held in reserve during this critical moment." They call for rapid action to house every unsheltered and inadequately housed resident of British Columbia.

Specifically, the letter asks Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, as well as the Premier and Mayors and Councilors throughout the province "to take decisive action now to adequately house those existing in street homelessness, encampments, shelters, poorly maintained SRO's and overcrowded reserve housing." They point out that "those living in encampments, inadequate housing such as SROs [single room occupancies], in shelters and on the streets in BC know they have been abandoned thus far. Fear, anger, panic and misinformation has set in. We ask that you take decisive action in BC and Vancouver by mustering all available resource to ensure the most vulnerable in our communities do not succumb to COVID-19. The time for uncompromising leadership on homelessness is critical now more than ever. Please ensure we do not fail unhoused residents of British Columbia."

People have taken over a Surrey community centre to emphasize the need for public buildings to be used for the homeless.

The letter points out that provincial and municipal authorities have the power to "acquire and use public and/or private property as required to prevent the spread of COVID-19" but that these powers "are not being utilized as they should be to permit unsheltered and under-housed people to properly physical-distance, self-isolate and quarantine at this time. It is time to take the decisive action emergency legislation allows and seize the housing. [...] The only adequate, human rights-based approach enables full access to the true physical distancing, self-isolating and access to sanitation our top health officials strongly urge for every citizen. Crowded SROs and 'petri-dish' shelters with shared bathrooms and showers do not provide access to adequate sanitation and leaves occupants and workers at great risk. Removing individuals from crowded shelter and housing stock after they develop symptoms is too little too late and undermines both individual and public rights and safety."

The letter calls on all levels of government to act quickly and decisively, including, and specifically to:

"Provide self-contained hotel, motel or other rooms with toilets, showers, sinks and beds for every individual that wants to move from the streets, encampments, shelters and inadequate housing including SROs and crowded reserve housing, and begin long term housing planning for all those who are temporarily housed.

"Ensure the number of units accounts for the overflow of women, trans and gender non-conforming people, and children escaping domestic violence during COVID-19; temporary foreign works and others with precarious immigration status; those who may be released from overcrowded and dangerous detention centres during this time.

"Delivery of three healthy meals daily to every room to allow people to physical distance and self-isolate as required.

"Delivery of needed safe supply including alcohol to anyone who requires it daily.

"Regular cleaning services and access to hygiene supplies as required.

"Adequate PPE, training and safety measures for all hotel, social services and other support staff working to support community members housed in the hotel stock.

"For those who are unable to move inside, whether because there is insufficient shelter, or available shelter is inaccessible to their needs, support people to 'space out' through empty park and greenspace assets through-out the province without risk of removal or persecution."

The letter is signed by:

Leslie Varley, Executive Director, BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres
Viveca Ellis, Interim Community Organizer, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
Fiona York, Coordinator, Carnegie Community Action Project
Anna Cooper, Staff Lawyer -- Homelessness, Pivot Legal Society

This article was published in

Number 22 - April 17, 2020

Article Link:
Call for Immediate Action to House All Unhoused BC Residents


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