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By Kash Heed

Published 1:39 PST, Fri November 24, 2023

As an accountable level of government, we have a responsibility to address issues that affect the most vulnerable people in our community – individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Recent data indicates a disturbing 91% increase in people living on the streets, under bridges, and in parks throughout Richmond. 

The City’s population experiencing homelessness is far from homogeneous. It disproportionately comprises vulnerable populations, and largely comprises individuals from the region. Aside from sharing a vulnerability of homelessness, this population varies in other characteristics such as personal circumstances, age, gender and race. The reasons contributing to their challenges vary and are not necessarily caused by a single factor, nor sequential. 

Experiences with homelessness can be considered across two dimensions: the phase of homelessness and the circumstances that led to homelessness. 

• Studies show that the progression into homelessness starts with people being at-risk, often due to pressures from external social and economic factors or personal trauma.

• The next phase is being nonchronically homeless: namely, less than one year without housing. 

• This can unfortunately progress to being chronically homeless: when one has been homeless for more than a year or has multiple occurrences over several years. 

At-risk individuals, the nonchronically homeless, and the chronically homeless benefit from different interventions. For example, the nonchronically homeless may need financial support and attainable housing. People experiencing chronic homeless, however, may first need help with underlying circumstances such as mental health or addiction challenges.

As a City, we cannot give up on those struggling to transition out of homelessness. We need to find ways to steadily ensure that the chronically homeless get the supports they need. Without supports, individuals will continue cycling in and out of homelessness, leaving a sizable segment of our society struggling to live happy and fulfilling lives. 

The City has several well-regarded initiatives in place to support those in need including our Homelessness Strategy 2019-2029 and our diverse models of housing and shelters for vulnerable people. There is, however, a more immediate need to support the unhoused population that frequents our outdoor public spaces with inadequate living conditions. 

This is why now, more than ever, we must focus on those most vulnerable to homelessness – those struggling with personal mental health or addiction challenges. We must work collaboratively with other levels of government and across the political spectrum to ensure our social contract to this population isn’t broken, and by providing adequate systems, funding and supports to those who need it. 

Always remember, people experiencing homelessness are human beings – deserving of safety, dignity and respect.

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