There has been a significant amount of research conducted in recent years to determine the extent of the homelessness crisis in British Columbias Lower Mainland. Unfortunately, most of this research has been focused on homelessness in Vancouver Downtown Eastside; thereby, neglecting the crisis that neighbouring municipalities are also experiencing. The City of Burnaby is one of these satellite communities faced with a homelessness problem; but, until 2005, very little had been done about the issue. Consequently, there has been a lack of research conducted on homelessness in Burnaby
In January 2009, the RCMP allowed a practicum student from Simon Fraser University to research homelessness in Burnaby. The research took place over a four month period, from January to April of 2009; and included archival, observational and interview-based methods. The report that follows is the product of that research. It focuses on describing the evolution of homelessness in Burnaby and discussing what the community has done to address the issue.
The influx of homelessness in Burnaby and neighbouring Lower Mainland municipalities is due, in large part, to the following factors:
- A shortage of social housing caused by the cessation of both federal and provincial housing programs,
- Federal and provincial changes to income assistance that restricted the funding of income assistance programs and made it more difficult for people to get on welfare, and
- The deinstitutionalization of persons with mental illnesses.
These three factors offer macro-level explanations of homelessness, but, there are also a number of individual-level factors that predispose certain people to feeling the effects of these policy changes more so than others:
- Family Breakdown-Failed relationships sometimes leave one partner without a home.
- Addictions-Severe addictions may cause a person to lose family, friends and/or jobs; and may inhibit on ability to take care of him or her self.
- Mental Illness-Severe mental illnesses preclude an individual from being able to sustain a home and/or employment.
- Loss of Employment-Job loss may force a person to live off of welfare cheques; which are often inadequate to sustain independent living.
- Choice-Some people do, in fact, choose to be homeless because of the lack of responsibility that accompanies this lifestyle; however, the percentage of people choosing to be homeless is very small.
Once a person becomes homeless it is very difficult for them to get off of the streets becausehomelessness, joblessness, boredom, crime and addiction reinforce one another in a homelessness cycle.
Effects of Homelessness
Homelessness affects not only the homeless, but also the community and society at large. The homeless suffer from health problems, hunger and damaged self-efficacy. Communities tend to fear the homelessand must cope with loitering, criminal activity, refuse, and health hazards like exposed needles and urine bottles. Ultimately, society must cover the cost of homelessness; which includes providing health care, housing, support and criminal justice services to the homeless.
The Story of Change in Burnaby
In 2004, homelessness became more noticeable in Burnaby; which prompted concern from a number of community members in Burnaby Southeast, Kingsway-Corridor District. Almost immediately, the concerned parties realized that there were no services available to homeless people living in Burnaby. Consequently, the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness was formed in 2005; and, for the past four years, it has led local initiatives to end homelessness in Burnaby. The Task Force, which is made up of community members, service providers and government agencies, has had a number of tremendous accomplishments over a relatively short period of time; some of which include:
© A report on homelessness written by Jim Woodward and Associates in 2005.
© The hiring of Outreach Workers in Burnaby who work under the direction of a local not-for-profit service agency, Progressive Housing Society (PHS).
© The Establishment of Outreach Resource Centers across the city run by PHS
© The deployment of a Mobile Outreach Van operated by PHS.
© The opening of an Extreme Weather Shelter, run by Lookout Emergency Aid Society out of St. Francis De Sales Church in South Burnaby.
Interestingly, the RCMP has played a unique role in addressing Burnaby homelessness problem. The District Commander for Burnaby Southeast District chose to employ a problem oriented policing approach to homelessness. Accordingly, the RCMP have been involved in Task Force activities, and have even mobilized members of the faith community to assist with delivering services to Burnabys homeless.
As a result of efforts made by members of the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness, homeless people in Burnaby are starting to receive the help they need to get off of the streets; however, a number of obstacles stand in the way of the Task Forces ultimate goal of ending homelessness in Burnaby. Accordingly, several recommendations must be followed before permanent solutions to homelessness in Burnaby can be found.
#1 The Federal, Provincial and Municipal Governments need to work together and with the community to develop an integrated plan to end homelessness in Burnaby
#2 The City of Burnaby must advocate for their homelessness problem
#3 Burnaby needs an emergency shelter coupled with supportive and affordable housing
#4 Burnaby is in need of a permanent outreach facility
#5 The public must make an effort to break down the barriers that exist between themselves and the homeless
#6 The community needs to lobby for change
#7 Provincially-run and, preferably, community-based support services should be established for people dealing with severe mental illnesses and/or addictions
#8 The Province should provide sufficient outreach services to the homeless
We are all responsible for bringing about an end to homelessness. Canadians must not tolerate social conditions, like homelessness, that would normally characterize third world countries. Homelessness is a disruption to our communities and an incredible strain on taxpayer dollars. Indeed, Patterson et al. (2008) note that providing the homeless with housing and the supports necessary for people to remain housed would be cheaper than continuing to do what we have been doing. However, the longer we wait to deal with homelessness appropriately the more expensive it will become to fix the problem. Therefore, society must take swift action against homelessness before it is too late to reverse the effects of this spiralling epidemic. The road to recovery will be long, but with partnership and perseverance homelessness can be overcome.
To download our complete Partners for Action Document (87 pages),