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B.C. urban mayors say they’ve hit their limit on homelessness, disorder

‘Catch and release’ system for people with mental illness, addiction
Tent camp reappears on Pandora Ave. in Victoria, Nov. 27, 2021. Motels were bought by B.C. Housing and permanent supportive housing projects are underway in Victoria and other B.C. communities in an effort to keep up with influx of homeless people with mental and addiction conditions. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press Media)

Temporary housing in motels and construction trailers has not slowed the growing need for more police response to crime and disorder, because homeless people with addictions and brain injuries remain in a “catch and release” justice system, leaders of B.C.’s 13 largest cities say.

The B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus was formed in the summer of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic forced urban homeless shelters to restrict crowding, creating a surge in tent camps that were already outpacing temporary shelters and housing. With the pandemic about to enter its third year, the co-chairs, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, said Tuesday they need action on complex care that can help the hardest to house in B.C.

“Together each of our communities are on the front lines experiencing the same impact of gaps in the health, housing and justice system,” Basran said Jan. 11. “Our most vulnerable are falling through the cracks. Municipalities have invested in supportive housing, funded more police and bylaw officers and created policies to increase inclusion in our communities, and yet more needs to be done and for that we need the province’s support.”

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The BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus is a non-partisan group of mayors from Abbotsford, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, New Westminster, Prince George, Richmond, Saanich, Surrey, Vancouver and Victoria. They issued a statement and video Tuesday describing the urgency of the situation.

“Residents with complex needs have overlapping mental health, substance use, trauma and acquired brain injuries and they are often left to experience homelessness,” the mayors said. “They do not fit into current supportive housing models, they do not fit within long-term health care systems, and if they commit crimes, they do not fit within the overloaded justice system which perpetuates a catch and release cycle.”

B.C. Housing, the province’s agency for supportive housing, began an aggressive program more than a decade ago, led by former B.C. Liberal minister Rich Coleman. Single-room-occupancy hotels in Vancouver’s downtown east side were bought and renovated, and the program has since been expanded across urban regions in the province, acquiring motels and building new supportive housing.

New projects are underway or completed in Nanaimo, Victoria, Prince Rupert, Revelstoke, Saanich and Williams Lake.


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