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BC Housing and the province chose to commence five large, congregate housing projects in Vancouver, instead of evidence-based “recovery-oriented housing” recommended by SFU researchers shown to better address homelessness, mental health, addiction and community safety

Vancouver, B.C. (June 28, 2022): Over nearly twenty years, the provincial government built a first-class database with an internationally recognized team of experts in addiction, mental illness, and housing at SFU. The resulting body of work shows how best to deal with the complex interactions between crime, addiction, mental illness and homelessness. The province not only ignored that evidence, it also ordered the destruction of the database.

Going against high quality evidence, BC Housing and the City of Vancouver announced their “congregate housing” model last year. The international body of evidence favouring recovery-oriented housing includes major research conducted in B.C. using linked multi-ministry data. One week after receiving a proposal to use the same data to evaluate provincial action to reduce homelessness, an inter-ministry committee ordered the database be destroyed, eliminating the opportunity to promote transparency and continuous improvement.

A City of Vancouver public hearing is set to begin tonight on the rezoning for one of the province’s congregate buildings. BC Housing’s application at W7th/W8th Avenues and Arbutus is for a 13-storey tower with 129 single-occupancy suites in Kitsilano.

For years, the value of the data available in B.C,’s Inter-Ministry Evaluation Database (IMED) was acknowledged and cited in 30 provincial government-commissioned reports and over 60 peer-reviewed publications. The data show the clear benefits of recovery-oriented housing in which vulnerable people exiting homelessness make up no more than five percent of a building’s residents and get the support they need. Results show this to be preferred by more than 80% of people who are homeless, and far more effective than gathering large groups in a congregate housing setting, which has shown significantly poorer outcomes for both residents and surrounding communities..

“The evidence from the IMED forms the most authoritative account of the costs of homelessness, addiction and mental illness in B.C. and shows the comparative effectiveness and costs of current versus alternate approaches to solve these challenges", said Dr. Julian Somers, SFU Distinguished Professor and Director at the Center for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA). Dr. Somers worked with service organizations across the province to develop a proposed Call to Action, which was presented to two government ministers including Housing Minister David Eby. To date, Dr. Somers has received no response, apart from the order to destroy data.

In their February 2021 announcement, BC Housing and the City of Vancouver rejected the recovery-oriented housing approach and announced a "Permanent Modular Supportive Housing Initiative” with five large-scale congregate housing buildings. All would be on city-owned land, funded by BC Housing and operated by supportive housing operators also chosen by BC Housing.

“The work of Dr. Somers and his research team at CARMHA confirms that our concerns as local residents and neighbours are valid,” said Karen Finnan, spokesperson for the Kitsilano Coalition. "It is shocking that Dr. Somers’ Call to Action, which is the result of over $120 million dollars in taxpayer-funded research, would be ignored in favour of embarking on a large scale, costly construction initiative. The data is clear that the proposed projects will NOT achieve good outcomes for residents of the buildings in terms of their challenges with mental health and addiction. The projects will also compromise the safety and wellbeing of the residents by exposing them to far higher rates of criminal convictions than what is being observed in recovery-oriented housing," said Finnan.

"Taxpayers need to ask why the City of Vancouver, BC Housing and provincial leaders are inflicting hardships on people with mental illness and addictions, and shortchanging taxpayers by continuing to implement an inferior model of housing," states Finnan. "The current model for housing those with serious mental illness and addictions clearly doesn’t work. Vancouver City Council must reject the rezoning application put forward by BC Housing for W7th/8th Avenues and Arbutus, and ask BC Housing to choose, in consultation with the neighbourhood, a housing model that will result in better outcomes for all concerned."

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About Dr. Julian Somers

Dr. Somers completed his clinical training at the University of Washington, Seattle’s Harborview Hospital, and BC Children’s Hospital, specializing in the treatment and prevention of addiction. The Somers Research Group is an internationally recognized initiative that includes large-scale randomized trials, multi-site interventions, and population-level studies.

About the Kitsilano Coalition

We're a community-based coalition of individuals and organizations that care about their neighbourhood and city. The Kitsilano Coalition is focused on promoting and protecting inclusionary housing. We believe that residents of neighbourhoods who are affected by policies and plans have the right to be heard. We support open and inclusive policy making that is evidence-driven and accessible to citizens. We recognize that Governments and Municipalities have human rights obligations. In making decisions, Govt & Municipalities must ensure they do not violate human rights codes and health and safety. Statistics show that supportive housing rules leave people isolated and put them at higher risk of harmful outcomes as a result of the restrictive environment.

We believe a better alternative is small scattered-site housing with supports rather than an unnecessary level of institutionalization imposed on people living in our neighbourhood, City and Province.

Media contact:
Trevor Pancoust