Help is on the way for a segment of the North Shore population who have no homes of their own.
All three North Shore municipalities and both First Nations have been granted almost $2 million to step up outreach services for people experiencing homelessness.
The province and the federal government created the fund, recognizing that many services needed by people on the street became severely curtailed or lost completely in the pandemic, exactly when they were needed most.
“This pandemic has been hard on all of us, but for some in our community it has been harder than we can even imagine,” said City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan. “With these funds in hand together, we will be able to better support the health and well-being of all people.”
The money will go toward several new initiatives starting in September. The Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh are partnering with Lookout Housing and Health Society for an urban Indigenous outreach team trained to provide culturally appropriate services unique to the trauma and challenges their populations have faced.
A mobile outreach unit equipped with basic hygiene and health facilities will be able to move about the North Shore as needed.
And the three local governments, along with the North Vancouver City Library will be able to offer sanitation services for those living in vehicles or boats, plus warming and cooling centres.
“This funding will help us improve the quality of life for our residents and, at the same time, deepen our community partnerships,” said District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little.
In the most recent Metro Vancouver Homeless Count, volunteers found and interviewed 121 individuals on the North Shore, although front-line workers always stress that the real number is most certainly higher.
“Through COVID in particular, we know that all of our service providers have said they've had increased service requests, which is the first and foremost way of knowing that we need more services,” said Renée de St. Croix, manager of long-range and community planning. “The key is to recognize that a lot of these people, they are born and raised here, they live here. And these services are really intended to take that very personal approach to making sure that their needs are met.”
It will be the first time the North Shore has had dedicated outreach staff, seven days a week.
“It's essentially taking the front door of services to people,” said planner Karen Montgomerie, they could be offering practical things like basic supplies or it could be a range of emotional and social supports. “It's about going to an individual, assessing what they need and then being able to provide them with what they need as quickly as possible.”
North Vancouver-Lonsdale NDP MLA Bowinn Ma said the best solution for homelessness is the provision of more affordable housing, of which more than 500 units are currently funded and on their way for North Vancouver. But she said she was pleased to see the funding come through to help in the meantime.
“(It will) to give them the opportunity to access all the supports that are available to them, to give them the confidence that they need to be able to move forward,” she said.
A key aspect of the program is that it is portable with staff being able to move where they are needed most, which is ideal, as unsheltered people tend to move between communities to access different amenities.
“Even though there is a common belief that all West Vancouver residents are affluent, this isn’t the case – homelessness exists here as well, as it does across the North Shore,” said West Vancouver Mayor Mary-Ann Booth. “We have residents with diverse economic realities, and the pandemic has brought this to the forefront.”