- accessed over $874,000 in funding from foundations and senior governments to address the essential needs of the unsheltered;
- realized 65 extreme weather response mats and approved 52 supportive housing units;
- established an Inter-Departmental Working Group on Homelessness;
- and is working on the implementation of a number of Downtown Livability Initiatives.
Why do we need to wait for a strategy to take action on homelessness?
The City is not waiting to take action on homelessness; however, creating a strategy based on partner, community and lived-experience input will focus attention on this issue, contribute to new and innovative responses, facilitate collaboration and coordination, and assist in accessing funding from senior levels of government.
In the past two years the City has taken the following actions to address homelessness in New Westminster:
These actions and others provide a strong foundation and demonstrate the City’s commitment to addressing homelessness, including through the development and implementation of a strategy.
Why is there a need for a new Homelessness Action Strategy?
The March 2020 Homeless Count tallied 52 unsheltered and 71 sheltered homeless people in New Westminster. As with all homeless counts, this is likely a significant undercount of the true extent of unsheltered homelessness.
Since the count and as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is evidence that the numbers of unsheltered homeless have significantly increased. Contributing factors include: the reduction in shelter capacity due to physical distancing requirements; the impacts of employment and income disruption, which are contributing to mental health and substance use issues; and the reluctance on behalf of family members and friends to accommodate people on a temporary basis given fears of virus transmission.
In September 2020, City staff reached out to local service providers who have a mandate to address homelessness in New Westminster. These service providers, based on their interactions and observations, believe that the number of unsheltered homeless, including those who are “couch surfing,” is likely three to four times the pre-pandemic number.
Why is the previous Homelessness Action Strategy from 2006?
The previous strategy was developed in 2006, and provided a five-year vision and action plan for addressing homelessness in New Westminster. In 2012, the Homelessness Coalition, which assisted with the development of the original strategy, became a society, and operated at arms-length from the City. During the next five years, the Homelessness Coalition Society developed a series of action plans, some in collaboration with the City. In 2019, and with homelessness increasing, the City and the Homelessness Coalition Society decided that there was a need for a new comprehensive strategy and action plan to address homelessness. Work commenced on a Homelessness Needs Assessment; however, this work was paused in March 2020 as a result of the pandemic. In fall 2021, work was completed on the Homelessness Needs Assessment, and a working group was established to start work on a new Homelessness Action Strategy.
Who will develop the Homelessness Action Strategy, and what is the timeframe for its completion?
The strategy will build on the recently completed 2021 Homelessness Needs Assessment and provide a five-year vision and plan for addressing homelessness in New Westminster.
To develop the strategy, a working group has been established, which includes a diversity of perspectives, including business associations, faith-based and non-profit organizations, government bodies, and resident groups. A key perspective and voice on the working group and in the development of the strategy are individuals with lived and living experience of homelessness, who are seen as subject matter experts. Additionally, three graduate students from the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia sit on the working group and will be assisting the City in the development of the strategy.
The working group was established and started work in October 2021, and completion of the strategy is expected in April 2022.
What role will the community have to inform the Homelessness Action Strategy?
To develop the strategy, the project team will directly engage with people with lived and living experience of homelessness, business operators, residents, service providers and the community at large. Throughout the engagement, efforts will be made to incorporate perspectives and voices that are often not heard, to ensure that the strategy is responsive to the diverse and unique needs of the community.
Community-wide engagement is planned for February and March 2021 and will include a virtual panel and discussion event, as well as an online survey.
As a local business person or resident, what can I do to help people who may be facing homelessness?
Homelessness is such a complex issue, with many contributing factors, that it often seems overwhelming and can contribute to inaction; however, there are ways in which business operators and residents can help. The first and simplest is acknowledging the unsheltered with a smile, and letting them know that they are not invisible. Other ways take more effort but can be impactful, including distributing resource information; making a donation to a faith-based or non-profit organization addressing homelessness; volunteering your time with one of these organizations; and writing a letter for enhanced housing or service provision for the unsheltered to your MLA or MP.
Another way is sharing your ideas and suggested actions at the Community Conversation on Homelessness event on February 17, or by completing our online survey that launches on February 18.