(Wolf Depner/News staff)

Costs of homelessness far outweighs cost of housing says advocate

Saanich, Victoria, Oak Bay spend millions on homeless camps

In the last three years the city halls of Saanich, Oak Bay and Victoria have all come out with various estimations of the costs associated with tent city homeless camps.

On Wednesday Saanich confirmed a total of between $746,000 and $923,500 in costs associated with the Regina Park tent city. The estimate doesn’t include Saanich’s legal costs spent taking the occupants to B.C. Supreme Court. Saanich didn’t break down the specific costs but said the money went to policing, the remediation of the park, storage for campers’ gear and a hygiene station with showers and toilets near municipal hall.

Victoria estimated its costs for Super Intent City on the courthouse lawn were more than $1.6 million well before the province stepped in. The province later reported a $3 million total to ‘remediate’ the courthouse lawn. Oak Bay said it accrued about $10,000 worth of costs after the roaming tent city spent three weeks at three different parts (one week per) in Oak Bay.

With totals well into the millions, it’s got social housing advocates shaking their heads.

This is nothing new said Bernie Pauly, an advocate of homelessness and a professor in University of Victoria’s School of Nursing, adding homelessness always costs more than the fractured systems currently in place.

“It’s so incredible to watch the same issues come around that we’ve been cycling through for a decade, nevertheless we need to keep addressing them,” Pauly said. “Our government is not investing in evidence-based solutions, they are making poor investments. The tent city costs could be providing rents, could be providing modular housing and other interim supports.”

Related: Final tally for Saanich homeless camp nears $1 million

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Little has changed since the Canadian Homelessness Research Network published its 2012 report, The Real Cost of Homelessness, except that the costs have risen, Pauly added.

The report found the housing someone in the housing first model costs about $22,000 per year. That’s about half of the reported $50,000 per year that it costs to maintain the supports of policing, hospital, and social work for someone who is living homeless.

The costs come from responding to homelessness in tent cities through legal action and police, as well as shelters, which are all cost more than simply providing housing yet add solve nothing, Pauly noted.

“I’m not an economist but it makes sense to me as a researcher, as a nurse, to know that when someone is homeless it costs more to [support them] in terms of money, and it costs more in terms of the impact on their own health and quality in life,” Pauly said.

Ashley Mollison from Alliance Against Displacement has been vocal in her criticism that Saanich is criminalizing homelessness by totalling up the money.

“Take the money spent on rousing people from parks every morning, 24-7 surveillance and tent city patrols, 75 cops to tear down a tent city, and put it into creating spaces where poor people can feel welcome,” Mollison said. “How about community centers that don’t cost money, access to bathrooms and storage, land for housing or structures until there is housing, etc.”

reporter@saanichnews.com

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