Report reveals hidden homelessness and housing needs in south Vancouver

Julie Thomson of South Vancouver Neighbourhood House
Julie Thomson, food security coordinator at South Vancouver Neighbourhood House holds the report she headed on homelessness and housing issues in southeast Vancouver. The report was released at the SVNH’s annual general meeting on Oct. 10, 2012. Photo: Carissa Thorpe

Housing and homelessness problems in southeast Vancouver are largely hidden issues, according to a report released last week by South Vancouver Neighbourhood House (SVNH).

The document reports the findings of focus groups SVNH conducted this year, interviewing around 30 southeast Vancouver residents, including newcomers, seniors, SVNH staff, and other service providers in the area.

“It’s not a big problem of street level homelessness like you see when you’re in the Downtown Eastside or downtown, or even in neighbourhoods like Mount Pleasant,” said Karen Larcombe, executive director of SVNH.

Poverty manifests itself in under-housing in southeast Vancouver, she says. “There’s way too many people living in a dwelling, or maybe there’s two families sharing a one-bedroom apartment.”

Law breaking landlords a problem

Landlords not following the law is a problem. Researchers found a lack of maintenance on rental buildings and landlords not providing receipts for renters to claim rental subsidies are key issues for area residents.

“It’s particularly difficult for immigrant families who may not know their rights, may not know what to do if they’re having problems with their landlord, may have language barriers. They may be taken advantage of more often,” Larcombe said of feedback SVNH has gotten from residents.

Housing issues affect everyone

“In our community we have a very high level of immigration – I think 60 per cent of our community speaks a language other than English, but I think it’s a problem for everybody,” said Larcombe. “It’s not just immigrant families that are facing this issue. There [are] many low-income families that have been in this community for generations that are struggling. You know, rents are going up, people are getting squeezed, and they can’t afford the increases, no matter how long they’ve been here.”

“If we’re not well housed, it can create health problems, it can impact our children, how well they do in school, and so on. So it’s important that these issues be addressed,” said Julie Thomson, SVNH’s food security coordinator and head of the research team behind the report, titled “Meeting the Challenges of Housing and Homelessness in Southeast Vancouver.”

Thomson recommends several initiatives in direct response to the report, including:

  • Strengthening partnerships with existing housing and homelessness agencies in the city;
  • Supporting youth development through job training and mentoring;
  • Creating a counseling position at SVNH dedicated to housing issues and advocacy in the area, though Larcombe admits there isn’t any funding for such a position.

Co-operation among service providers and government needed

“If we’re going to be successful in this municipality in addressing this issue, we have to work together,” Larcombe said, noting housing issues in southeast Vancouver are part of a city-wide problem. Larcombe also alluded to the work being done by the City of Vancouver, as outlined in the Mayor’s Taskforce on Housing Affordability.

“That means communities coming together with the politicians, coming together with developers, and really putting the best brains and hearts and minds into…solving this.”

Reported by Stacy Thomas

In this podcast, South Vancouver Neighbourhood House executive director Karen Larcombe talks about housing issues unearthed in a report the social agency recently released at its annual general meeting.

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