An initiative has been launched with the intention of helping Langley’s homeless and most vulnerable people.
The B.C. government announced Monday that BC Housing together with the Fraser Health Authority are developing an Intensive Case Management (ICM) team in Langley which will, according to the province, “increase supports for people in greatest need.”
Through its ‘Housing First’ model, the ICM team plans to conduct street outreach to connect the homeless with immediate, stable shelter and then longer-term housing as appropriate.
Langley MLA Mary Polak said the program should start sometime in the spring.
The ICM team will also provide supports to clients living in the private rental market throughout the community.
The province will provide $189,000 for up to 30 rent subsidies for the ICM program to help vulnerable people get access to affordable housing in Langley, with supports. Fraser Health will fund and oversee the ICM team that will provide support for those being helped.
The province notes that the ICM is a team-based model of care, serving individuals with severe substance use issues who may or may not have concurrent disorders and/or mental illness.
“These individuals face complex challenges related to health, housing, and poverty, and face barriers in accessing existing health or social services,” a government release stated.
Polak credited community members who provided their input, as well as Langley City Mayor Ted Schaffer, Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag and RCMP officer in charge Murray Power.
“This is an important step that we will continue to build on,” Polak said.
“Following up on our Homelessness Town Hall, this partnership with Fraser Health will mean people are on the ground dedicated to looking out for those who are homeless and at risk whether they need immediate shelter, connections to community, or access to regular health care.”
Polak added, “I’m really pleased we could move forward on this step and we should be clear –- this is a (first) step. I think this will start a significant change in what we’re seeing on the ground in Langley, if results in other communities are anything to go by.”
Mayor Schaffer said he’s “extremely pleased the province is moving forward on this initiative.”
“It’s been something that’s long overdue in the Langley area,” Schaffer said. “For myself, I’m pleased that MLA Polak has been a great advocate on this program for the City of Langley.”
Polak said, the main focus is, “how does (homelessness) affect our communities in the Township and the City and therefore what are the things we need to do?”
“That’s where we arrived at this; we looked at what we heard from the community, and also what we knew based on our different contacts about what was going on in other communities. It’s a first step but I think it’s going to be a very powerful one,” Polak explained. “I’ve seen the way these teams have operated in other communities and it flips the model on its head.”
Polak said in past, people had to search out a government agency and then ask for a particular kind of help and know what kind of help to ask for.
“Now you have somebody reaching out to them who has the ability to attach them to resources in any of a number of different agencies, and it tailors support to that individual person,” Polak said.
Schaffer, meanwhile, acknowledges this initiative alone won’t solve homelessness on its own, but should make an impact.
“There are so many layers (to the homelessness issue) — so many issues and people are looking for help,” Schaffer said. “This is just one more avenue that is so beneficial, not only for them, but for the community as a whole.”
With this in mind, Fraser Health chief medical health officer Dr. Victoria Lee said the “overdose public health emergency necessitates that we take urgent action to ensure we are responding appropriately.”
“The challenges faced by people who are homeless and substance dependent who may also be mentally ill are very complex,” Lee said. “It requires clinicians and housing workers who can work with people on the streets and in shelters to provide them with a wraparound service.”
‘Supports’ for income assistance recipients
Welfare rates in B.C. haven’t budged in a decade, which begs the question: has this affected the amount of poverty and potential homelessness in the province?
The monthly income assistance rate for a single employable individual is $610, the lowest in Canada.
And while this hasn’t changed over the past 10 years, there have been “other supports layered on that,” according to Polak.
“We’ve decided that when we tackle issues on income assistance, that we target areas where we think we are going to have an impact,” she said.
She points to the single parent employment initiative, which helps eligible single parents receive income and disability assistance to secure sustainable employment.
Polak noted that single parents have struggled to get off welfare for a variety of reasons: they’ve had to pay for training, childcare, transportation, and books, plus they’d lose their welfare in the process.
“We’ve changed that all around,” Polak said. “They get all of that paid for now, plus they keep their welfare for a year. We’ve got now, last count, was (that) well over 4,000 people have taken us up on that.”
She added that 800 people are now off of social assistance, thanks to this program.