VANCOUVER — British Columbia will provide 330 new homes for people living in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside by the end of June, the province's housing minister announced Sunday.
Ravi Kahlon, who announced the new initiative at an afternoon news conference alongside Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim, said there are currently about 117 people living on East Hastings Street, 70 of whom have expressed a desire for housing.
“Everyone in the Downtown Eastside deserves a safe, stable and supportive place to call home," he said. "We're committed to continuing to work with our partners to make that happen."
The new initiative will include two temporary supportive housing projects and a mix of renovated single room occupancy and other supportive housing units, which will open "on a rolling basis" through April, May and June.
Sim said there has been an uptick in safety concerns for those living in the Downtown Eastside, citing an increase in sexual and violent assaults as well as fires, adding the new housing will provide safety to the city's most vulnerable residents.
To illustrate his point, Sim cited a survey of 50 women living on the Downtown Eastside that was conducted between November and January by Atira Women's Society, a Vancouver-based organization that provides support services for women affected by violence. It said all 50 respondents reported feeling unsafe and being subjected to violence including sexual assault.
"The challenges we see in the Downtown Eastside are real and significant. Today marks an important step forward,” Sim said. "The province has shown a lot of leadership here and we'll continue to help our most vulnerable population out to get them the supports that they need."
The Vancouver Fire Rescue Service issued an order to remove tents and structures along East Hastings Street last July, which Kahlon said compelled governments and service providers to develop and implement a co-ordinated response plan to help people get off the streets and safely into homes.
He credited the response plan for getting more than 90 people who were living on the street into housing. Since then, he said the number of structures along East Hastings has gone from 180 to 74.
Kahlon said the province is also working "very closely" with the City of Vancouver to build more long-term housing options. He urged Downtown Eastside residents to take advantage of current availability and accept any housing offers that come their way.
"The goal is for people to get into shelters, then get them into supportive housing or in some cases complex care housing, and then once they've got that stability, to get them into either affordable rental units or market rentals," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2023.
Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press