Column: Homelessness and housing prices inextricably linked

The homelessness issue in Langley isn’t going away, and in fact is far more complex than it was just a few years ago.

Over the summer, much of the attention has focused on homeless camps along the Nicomekl River flood plain.

While this has been among the most visible signs of homelessness, there is plenty of other evidence of the growing nature of the problem.

One which is infrequently cited is the rapidly-increasing cost of residential real estate. While some people might think there is no connection between the two, there definitely is.

Home prices in Langley rose dramatically  in the past year, which meant that those who bought those homes are paying large monthly mortgage payments. Some of those homes are rented out – and landlords will be trying to get the maximum rent they can, whether following provincial rental increase guidelines or finding ways around them.

Given the tight rental market, and the fact that Langley City in particular has some of the lowest-priced rentals available in Greater Vancouver, this will put additional upward pressure on rental rates. For some people on welfare, small pensions or disability payments, this may prove to be the last straw. They are now far more susceptible to being homeless, or at the very least, temporarily without shelter while they search desperately through a very limited supply of available rentals.

In addition, the high cost of residential real estate causes some investors who had been putting money into that market to look around for secure income-producing properties. These include commercial and residential properties, notably rental apartment blocks. Some may be looking at demolition of older housing stock, while others will simply do their best to boost rents. Either way, it hurts tenants.

Another issue is youth homelessness. As many as 160 young people are homeless in Langley right now. Students at Brookswood Secondary and other schools who are part of the Social Justice 35 group are helping bring the matter of a homeless shelter for youth forward. They organized a fundraiser concert and community fair so that Langley School District Foundation can put some resources towards this issue. It took place on Saturday, Sept. 24.

Homelessness also puts tremendous pressure on police. Supt. Murray Power, officer in charge of the Langley RCMP detachment, said on Sept. 20 that it is one of the top issues his members deal with.

Many of the questions put to police officers are in regards to homelessness.

Power, who has been quite vocal on the homelessness issue for some time, said “it is not a crime to be homeless” — a point that needs to be made regularly.

He also said homeless people need to be treated with compassion, which his officers do on a daily basis.

He also said that the issue is “very complicated.” It is. It involves all levels of government.

It involves issues such as mental health, underfunding of health facilities in the Metro Vancouver suburbs, and drug use and overdoses (with Fentanyl use being the latest manifestation of a longstanding problem). The federal government has removed itself from direct involvement in housing for decades, and despite a new Liberal government being elected last October, little has changed so far.

Provincial housing policy until very recently was mostly focused on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. To its credit, the province recently announced a $500 million investment in rental housing, and Housing Minister Rich Coleman has been open to proposed homelessness solutions from communities all over B.C.

Coleman played a key role in Langley getting the Gateway of Hope homeless shelter built, ensuring that funds were made available from his ministry.

The shelter and its many associated services have made a substantial difference in helping homeless and low-income people in Langley. Many who first came to the shelter now have jobs and homes of their own. Unfortunately, much more needs to be done.

When the homelessness issue first raised its head in Langley close to 15 years ago, a community effort made a big difference. Service clubs, churches, non-profits, the Salvation Army, the City of Langley, the Township of Langley and the province all worked together to make the Gateway of Hope a reality. Such a community effort is needed again.

A town hall meeting on the issue is planned for Wednesday, Oct. 12, to discuss the issue and hear from politicians and people on the front lines.

People are welcome to attend and bring their ideas and suggestions.

It is being organized by Langley MLA Mary Polak, and will also feature Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag, Langley City Mayor Ted Schaffer and Supt. Power.

It takes place at the Cascades Convention Centre and begins at 7 p.m.

Frank Bucholtz is a retired editor. He writes monthly for the Langley Times, as well as sharing his insights on his Frankly Speaking blog. It can found at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca.

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