As the City of Abbotsford prepares to roll out two key initiatives to address homelessness, the number of people waiting for affordable housing is skyrocketing.
In September, the city was informed that 225 Abbotsford residents were on a BC Housing registry for social housing. By Dec. 10, a little more than three months later, that figure has increased by 66 per cent, to 375 individuals, according to the city.
The city said the number came from BC Housing, but a statement from BC Housing said the agency couldn’t verify the figure.
Household size can vary, and BC Housing said a total of 215 separate households are registered and waiting for housing.
“The majority of applicant households on the housing registry are currently housed,” the statement said, with such people often in homes that don’t meet their needs.
The number of homeless on the registry wasn’t provided.
Currently, Abbotsford has just 310 units of affordable rental units, including BC Housing-funded spaces and co-ops.
A BC Housing spokesperson said units are offered to those on the registry based on need, with women leaving a violent relationship receiving priority and the stability of one’s current accommodation factored in.
In late November, an annual report on the Canadian rental market showed Abbotsford has a vacancy rate of just 0.5 per cent – the joint-lowest figure among all major Canadian cities.
BC Housing says it has spent $9.4 million providing subsidized housing and rent supplements in Abbotsford to address the issue.
The agency also pointed to funding for the Gladys Avenue supportive housing project that will open in early 2017. It also has provided funds for local homeless shelters.
The housing registry figures are tucked in a report that outlines how two key initiatives meant to address homelessness in Abbotsford should be rolled out next year.
February will see the launch of a co-ordinated intake and referral (CIR) pilot project that is meant to streamline how both non-profit and government service providers help those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
The CIR model aims to give homeless men, women and youth a single-entry point into a system meant to address their unique needs.
The aim is to allow service providers to better communicate, while reducing barriers for those who want help. Fifteen different agencies are participating in the model.
“It’s helping individuals to have one entry point for an application, so they only have to tell their story once,” homelessness co-ordinator Dena Kae Beno told council during a committee of the whole meeting Monday.
The project was created with a Service Canada grant of $400,989 designated for innovative research projects. If successful, the Abbotsford initiative could be used to address homelessness elsewhere.
The city has also received funding to develop a “rental connect” program over the next four months. Such a program will aim to connect those who need housing with private and affordable housing options.
It will also provide “supported tenant management” to landlords and property managers.
The program has been in the works since July 2015, but funding was only recently received.
The city is also conducting a feasibility study into the opening of a drop-in centre for people who are homeless. There have been regular calls for such a facility from homeless men and women and advocates. While a Supreme Court ruling allows people to camp in parks, options are limited during daytime hours.
Coun. Dave Loewen, who chaired the city’s Homelessness Action Advisory Committee, choked back tears Monday as he spoke about the work that has been done in the past two years. He said the last years have seen the city take “our game from the stone age to the 21st Century,” and hailed city staff for their work.