Public consultation on Vancouver's supportive housing strategy
Web-only article from "Housing and Homelessness" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 4 (1)
In the spring, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and the City of Vancouver co-sponsored an in-depth public consultation. They wanted public input on a proposed strategy for locating supportive housing† in Vancouver. The results of the consultation were put into a report called Supportive Housing Strategy for Vancouver Coastal Health's Mental Health & Addictions Supportive Housing Framework.1 From now on I will refer to the actual report document as "the Strategy."
The impetus and need for a supportive housing strategy
The need for a supportive housing strategy came out of a challenging public process in 2004 over a supportive housing proposal for the 39th and Fraser Street area. The project was for people with concurrent disorders† and was to be an alcohol- and drug-free building. A development permit was eventually granted for 30 apartments, but a number of concerns were raised. One was whether the location was appropriate. As a result, City Council asked staff to work with VCH and the provincial government to develop a strategy that would outline where supportive housing could be located. This included getting public input into the suggested strategy.
The Strategy focuses only on a certain group of people who need supportive housing: those with mental illness or addictions who are connected with Vancouver Coastal Health. VCH estimates that over the next 10 years, there will be a need for 2,200 supportive housing units.1 This need could be met with 1,540 rent supplements given to people in market housing† units, and 660 units in new social housing† buildings.1 The Strategy recommends that 10 to15 new buildings be developed.
The public process
All in all we held 20 meetings to talk with people about the suggested strategy. Most were smaller meetings in neighbourhoods, including two where translation in Punjabi and Cantonese/Mandarin were available. There were also large public meetings and events sponsored by organizations such as the Vancouver Board of Trade, neighbourhood groups of concerned citizens, and faith-based groups.
Over 500 people attended or sent us their comments. Participants included city residents, service providers and people who had a mental illness or were in recovery from addictions and their family members. We also heard from people who were neighbours to a supportive housing building, or who might be in the future.
Many people said they appreciated a video shown at the meetings that featured three people with mental illness and/or addictions talking about their experiences.
What people said
We heard overwhelming support for the Strategy. For example: "Great plan. We really need more housing. A home provides a foundation on which to build recovery."
Many people said they wanted to see supportive housing in all neighbourhoods, because mental health and addictions affect people in all walks of life. A minority did question the idea that supportive housing should be spread out across the city. Those opposed seemed most concerned about specific sites that might be used for supportive housing. Others believe they live in neighbourhoods where there is already enough supportive housing. In all, less than a dozen people - out of over 500 - were not in favour.
Many suggestions were made about providing ongoing information/education about mental illness, addictions and supportive housing. Ideas included open houses or tours of supportive housing buildings, facilitating connections between people living in supportive housing and area neighbours, using videos that describe individual experiences, and publicizing success stories.
Worries about personal safety and crime were raised occasionally. It was helpful to refer to research on supportive housing for people with substance use and concurrent disorders. VCH contracted with the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA) at SFU for this research.2 Their research concluded that "the preponderance of evidence indicates that supportive housing is an essential component of an effective overall therapeutic and rehabilitation strategy for individuals with dual diagnoses, and with careful planning and consultation, these programs can function well and be perceived as an asset to their communities and neighbourhoods."
There are currently 37 supportive housing buildings in the city and they fit into neighbourhoods without problems, as evidenced by the lack of complaints to the City by neighbours.
The next step
Most often, the message we heard was: "Get on with it!" Many people want more supportive housing and asked how that can happen. The answer is: we need to build community and political consensus that supportive housing is what is needed in Vancouver and other areas of the province.
The revised Strategy, incorporating the public input, contains recommendations about locating supportive housing - chiefly, "that supportive housing be scattered throughout the City, located to support geographic balance."1 It also contains important recommendations about partnerships and about seeking funding from the provincial and federal governments for building the housing and for the ongoing support services. The Strategy recommendations need to be put in place so that the supportive housing strategy can become a reality.
About the authorJill is a Senior Housing Planner with the City of Vancouver, responsible for housing policies and programs. She is also the City's Homelessness Policy Coordinator. Jill developed the City's Homeless Action Plan.
City of Vancouver, Housing Centre Community Services Group. (2007). Supportive Housing Strategy for Vancouver Coastal Health's Mental Health & Addictions Supported Housing Framework. Vancouver: Author. http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/housing/supportivehousingstrategy/pdf/finalsupportivehousingstrategy.pdf
Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA). (2007). Housing for People with Substance Use and Concurrent Disorders: Summary of Literature and Annotated Bibliography. Prepared for Vancouver Coastal Health by CARMHA, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University. http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/housing/supportivehousingstrategy/pdf/CARMHABiblio.pdf