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A home is where the hope is

Continued from Page 2

Here are some key recommendations that emerge from a synthesis of that material and numerous interviews with sources close to the issue:

The federal, provincial and municipal governments must maintain existing low-income housing stock and significantly increase the number of new, permanent social-housing units. At least 1,200 new social housing units a year are needed in B.C.

The government must adjust welfare rates to reflect rising costs so that people can afford to pay rent and purchase food.

The government must create market incentives for developers to include low-income housing in new projects.

Because 30 per cent of the homeless are aboriginal (while natives make up only 4 per cent of the general population), the government must increase funding specifically for programs that provide emergency, transition, supportive and permanent housing for aboriginals.

Vancouver Coastal Health must aggressively inspect and prosecute landlords for infestations of mould, bugs and rodents. The city should offer free bed-bug-spraying services.

Public washrooms must be introduced in Vancouver on a large scale.

What it all comes down to is that a massive effort must be made to increase social housing. And once people are grounded in safe, secure housing, they need access to supportive programs that will help them find work and deal with their mental health and addiction problems.

But it has to be housing first.

And if governments want to know how to get from here to there, all they have to do is listen to their own experts -- the social planners at city hall or the GVRD, and to the poverty activists, such as those at Pivot Legal Society and the Downtown Eastside Residents Association, who have been saying these things for a long time.

A growing housing gap and a way to close it

The amount of new permanent subsidized housing in British Columbia has fallen sharply t his decade, with waiting lists climbing sharply above the levels of the late 1990s.

The B. C. Housing Program started in 1994, and new funding was cancelled in 2002. All existing program funding will be spent by the end of 2006.

The NDP estimates that it would cost the province $ 40million to close the housing gap completely, while building 1,200 permanent subsidized housing units would cost $ 20-million.

But a poll from The Strategic Counsel indicates that Vancouver residents are willing to pay much more than that if it will help to solve the homelessness crisis. According to the poll, more than a third of respondents would pay between $50 and $99 a year in additional taxes - worth at least $99-million and as much as $197-million a year if all B. C. taxpayers were to accept such a levy.

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What action would you support to deal with homelessness in Vancouver?**

More social housing and shelters: 23%

More addiction and mental health treatment programs: 22%

More institutions where the mentally ill and addicted homeless could be placed: 21%

More job training and job creation programs directed at the homeless: 21%

Tougher laws to get the homeless off the streets: 5%

A higher minimum wage: 4%

Higher welfare rates: 2%

Don't know: 3%

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How willing would you be to pay higher taxes to deal with the issue of homelessness in Vancouver?

Willing: 63%

Not willing: 35%

Don't know: 2%

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How much more are you prepared to pay in taxes to deal with the issue of homelessness in Vancouver?

Between $20 and $49 a year : 27%

Under $20 a year: 8%

$500 a year or more: 5%

Between $100 and $499 a year : 21%

Between $50 and $99 a year: 36%

Don't know: 3%

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** Numbers may not add up to 100 due to rounding

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SOURCE: THE STRATEGIC COUNSEL, BRITISH COLUMBIA NEW DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS. CA

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Series schedule

Monday

Two degrees short of salvation: How the streets killed Francis McAllister

Tuesday

An unnatural disaster:

Don't blame Vancouver's climate

Wednesday

Suburban sprawl: The homeless outside of the Eastside

Today

There is a way: A road map out of dead-end streets

Tomorrow

But is there a will?

Victoria and city hall react

Follow our five-part series

on globeandmail.com,

on CKNW radio and on CTV News.

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