The housing crisis in BC is like an iceberg.
Thousands of people have no homes at all; they sleep outside (on the streets, under bridges, in parks, etc.) or in temporary shelters. They are the visible tip of the iceberg, and in BC number over 11,000 people.
Just below the surface of the water are the “hidden homeless”, people who sleep with friends or family, in cars, or couch surf from place to place. They aren’t visible and are notoriously difficult to count, but some recent research suggests nearly 40,000 people belong to this category in BC.
Deeper under the water are those at risk of homelessness, people who currently rent their housing and pay over 30% of their income on rent. Determining the size of this group is based on census data, and from 2006 it is estimated that over 66,000 people in BC fall into this group.
It is common knowledge that these numbers are low estimates, but as they stand, there are over 117,000 people in the province who are in a state of absolute or hidden homelessness or at risk of homelessness.
Add to this the estimated growth of new households in core need (2,500 annually) and the gradual termination of operating agreements for existing social housing units (impacting over 40,000 units in BC over the next 20 years), and the situation grows increasingly bleak.
The people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness are remarkably diverse: seniors, indigenous people, single parents, immigrants and those without citizenship status, women (especially those fleeing violence and abuse), working people, couples with children, people with disabilities, etc. The housing crisis impacts so many of our family, friends and neighbours in negative and harmful ways.
Homelessness and inadequate housing are particularly rampant among BC’s indigenous people. Although they make up only 4% of the general population, they constitute at least 30% of the homeless in Greater Vancouver. In 2007 there were nearly 64,000 indigenous households living off-reserve, and 35% of these households (23,000) were low-income. Native housing societies operate 4,500 units of housing and have a waiting list of 10,000 applicants. There is an 80% shortage of indigenous-specific, low-income, off-reserve housing in BC.
On-reserve housing is habitually in need of repairs, over-crowded and of poor quality. More than a decade ago it was estimated that nearly 50% of on-reserve housing was in need of significant renovations. In 2004 native organizations estimated a shortage of 80,000 units of on-reserve housing for a population that has been increasing at significant rates.
Immigrants, refugees, temporary migrant workers, and undocumented people are over-represented in the hidden homeless category. Some people make use of existing social and cultural networks to avoid absolute homelessness, but they often end up in overcrowded and unhealthy housing situations.
A recent Metropolis BC study found that most newcomers surveyed spent at least 50% of their income on housing. A 2006 CMHC census-based housing report found that over 41,000 immigrant households in BC were in need of core housing, and this number excludes temporary migrant workers, people with work/study permits, asylum seekers, and people without status.