Panhandling fines in Salmon Arm make things worse for B.C. homeless population

It’s time we stopped criminalizing homeless survival strategies and housed people in need instead

Vancouver has the potential to be a great city, but not while our homeless numbers are in the thousands. Photo: Jon Hernandez/CBC

By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer

Step a few blocks outside of SFU’s Vancouver or Surrey campuses, and Metro Vancouver’s homeless crisis becomes painfully obvious. 

The uncertainty of living day to day without stable housing is stressful enough. Yet by-laws have been introduced to punish homeless people further, like the recent $50 fine in Salmon Arm (the latest region to enforce B.C.’s Safe Streets Act) for panhandling curbside, within 15 metres of a bank machine, in a car, or within a public plaza. 

Instead of squeezing money from those who might not even have it, we need to focus on finding permanent shelter and housing solutions for our city’s homeless population. The way Vancouver displaces its homeless population is a large stain on our collective conscience, and we need to demand more of our local and federal leaders to address this issue. 

Currently, no vacant housing units are renting for under $750 in Vancouver, suggesting a strong link between homelessness and the expensive housing market. While B.C. is investing in rent subsidies to offset the expensive rental rates, these programs are geared toward seniors and low-income families, and aren’t enough to permanently house the number of homeless people in the city. As of June 12, 2019, Vancouver had a homeless population of 2,223 people

We also need to acknowledge that Indigenous people are over-represented in the 2019 count: despite only accounting for 2% of the population in Vancouver, more than a third of people counted in the total number of homeless people identified as Indigenous. 

Kennedy Stewart, Vancouver’s mayor, praised the provincial government’s $66 million investment in creating temporary modular housing units, but urged the federal government to pitch in as well. Since October of last year, the federal government has contributed only $300,000 for low-income housing in Vancouver. But the homeless crisis is increasing so rapidly that just to keep up with the ever increasing number of homeless people, Vancouver would need 1,000 new units a year. 

What does it say about our city that year after year, Vancouver is less and less affordable for its residents to live in? That rather than ensuring safe accommodations for the people who cannot afford absurd housing rates, we allow them to slip through the cracks? It says that as a society, we have a baseline for who deserves to live comfortably, and who we are comfortable evicting and endangering. 

This is unacceptable. We must demand that federal action against our inhospitable housing market be a priority in the upcoming election. We must ask our federal leaders to pledge to secure more funding to permanently house B.C.’s homeless population so that we can finally proudly say that the West Coast is the best place to live for all people.