As British Columbians ponder their options in this year’s municipal elections, housing, homelessness and poverty remains the most important issue for 39 per cent of the province’s residents. For the next seven weeks, candidates running for office can expect to be grilled about what they intend to do.
In previous columns, we have looked at the issue of housing on its own. We learned recently that half of British Columbians who rent (50 per cent) express doubts about ultimately becoming homeowners. Back in February, 58 per cent of parents in the province told us they experienced housing-related stress.
This month, Research Co. and Glacier Media focused on the issue of homelessness. The emergence of encampments in some municipalities is bound to have an impact on the impending campaigns, so we wanted to see how British Columbians feel about the problem, possible solutions and whether the eradication of homelessness is achievable in their view.
Our perceptions about this matter are currently general and not local. More than seven in 10 British Columbians (73 per cent) consider the current situation related to homelessness in the province as a major problem. Just over half (52 per cent) say it is a major problem in their municipality and significantly fewer (27 per cent) think homelessness is a major problem in their neighbourhood.
Residents of Vancouver Island (60 per cent) and the Fraser Valley (58 per cent) are more likely to say that homelessness is a major issue in their municipality than their counterparts in Metro Vancouver (51 per cent), northern B.C. (49 per cent) and southern B.C. (40 per cent).
Practically four in five British Columbians (79 per cent) claim that homelessness has increased in the province over the past three years, and more than three in five (63 per cent) feel the same way about the situation in their municipality. More than two in five (42 per cent) say homelessness has increased in their neighbourhood.
British Columbians are not shy about scolding all levels of government on this issue. Only 29 per cent say their municipal government has done a “very good” or “good” job coming up with solutions to deal with homelessness. The rating is lower for the provincial government (27 per cent) and the federal government (20 per cent).
When British Columbians are asked about the causes of homelessness, the responses vary. Three in five (60 per cent) think addiction and mental health issues are to blame “a great deal” for the current situation, and a majority (53 per cent) point the finger at a lack of affordable housing.
Fewer British Columbians directly blame poverty and inequality (41 per cent), personal actions and decisions (30 per cent) or a bad economy and unemployment (24 per cent) for the perceived rise in homelessness across the province.
The data on this question is particularly fascinating. Almost two in five British Columbians aged 55 and over (38 per cent) and just over a third of British Columbians of East Asian descent (34 per cent) believe a person’s actions and decisions play a big role in homelessness. The ratings are lower among residents of other ages and origins.
When asked about specific ways to reduce this problem in the province, significant majorities of British Columbians agree with increasing temporary housing options for people experiencing homelessness (80 per cent) and offering incentives to developers if they focus on building affordable housing units (78 per cent). These are decisions that can be taken at the council level, if the will is there.
We also see majority support for devoting tax money to build units to house homeless residents (67 per cent) and changing zoning laws to allow property owners to build more units on standard lots (60 per cent).
Even as support for possible solutions is significant, the public is evenly divided on what can be done: 47 per cent of British Columbians believe that, with the proper policies and funding, homelessness can be eradicated in the province, and 46 per cent think that homelessness will always be a problem, even with the proper funding and policies.
Skepticism about an eventual solution to homelessness increases as people get older. While 57 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 and 53 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 think eradication is possible, only 33 per cent of those aged 55 and over concur.
At this point, British Columbians know what solutions they would like to see implemented to deal with homelessness, even if they have a very low level of trust in their elected officials. There is a clear split on whether the issue will ultimately be a thing of the past, but clear consensus on the causes.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from August 13 to August 15, 2022, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.