In an unprecedented election, it looks as if British Columbia might head into a minority government for the first time since 1952. Advance polls are being counted tonight after polls closed, but there are absentee ballots that won’t be counted until May 22-24. Here’s a breakdown of our views on how that minority or slim-majority government might affect life at First United:
BC Liberals: With 86% of referrals from BC211 to First United in 2016 relating to housing needs (80% referrals to our shelter and 6% to First United Church Social Housing Society), and almost 97% of unmet needs in the Downtown Eastside relating to housing, the Liberal platform did little to inspire hope for change in the status quo. In fact, the Liberal platform identified affordable housing as being a critical issue for many middle class families, with the focus instead on investing in new home ownership. In Metro Vancouver, where the working poor make up almost 14% of the population, home ownership is simply not a realistic goal, and increasing levels of poverty are more likely. While the party did pledge 5,300 units of “affordable housing,” average rents of $1,223 for a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver consume over 30% of a gross living wage, and over 63% of the gross wages of a full-time minimum wage worker in BC.
Homelessness was not even mentioned in the Liberals’ platform, despite a 30% increase in homelessness in the Greater Vancouver Area over the past 3 years.
Mental health and addiction are only mentioned in relationship to past achievements (which are limited and among the most expensive per capita of the strategies known to address mental health and addiction), or as they relate to children and gang violence, respectively.
The Liberals do plan to provide housing support to the close to 53,000 seniors’ households currently receiving assistance, but there are no new plans for government investment in assisted and residential care facilities. This puts already impoverished seniors at increased risk.
NDP: With a pledge to create 114,000 units of affordable housing (with innovative BC-manufactured wood products), the NDP platform also promised a renter’s rebate on BC income tax, controls on rent increases, broader support for seniors at risk of homelessness and deep poverty, and community consultations on how to best meet the needs of British Columbians. In addition, with up to 75% of residents of the Downtown Eastside facing mental health challenges and addiction, it would be welcome news that the government, under both the NDP and the Green Party, pledged to create a Ministry of Mental Health & Addiction. So often when our community members have a desire to seek treatment, they are asked to wait or told the resources are not available, often times resulting in relapse and increased cynicism about the possibility of ever getting help.
Green Party: The Green Party’s platform is a moderate middle on issues of housing & homelessness, but with a tendency towards policies that mirror the NDP’s plans. Should the final election outcome result in the Greens holding the balance of power, it is our hope that an alignment between the NDP and Green seats will move the agenda forward on BC’s housing crisis. With the Green’s call for a guaranteed minimum income — following the lead of Europe and other jurisdictions that have successfully tackled issues of drug addiction and homelessness, we are hopeful that meaningful progress will happen in our province.
Life on the Downtown Eastside…
First United Community Ministry Society is located at the heart of the Downtown Eastside – Canada’s poorest postal code. We are familiar with the ways that Canada’s largest social problems intersect, just blocks from some of the greatest wealth in the country. The results of tonight’s election might mean that nothing changes, or it could be the dawn of increased investment in areas that affect society’s most marginalized.
The future for us remains uncertain. Despite the generous support of our donors, our revenue is barely keeping up with inflation, let alone allowing us to prepare for the possibility of increased poverty and lack of access to adequate care and housing if nothing changes. We invite you to partner with us as we prepare for a hopeful future where one thing is for certain: life on the Downtown Eastside will remain challenging for thousands of residents, and we will continue to empower our community and work tirelessly for social justice. Whether you drop off donations, volunteer your time, make financial contributions or all of the above, without your support we can’t treat our community members with the dignity and love they so deserve. The need today is greater than ever. Please give generously and help to keep hope alive on the Downtown Eastside.