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B.C. has to find solution for homelessness in rural areas, says regional district chair

‘Make sure it’s not a one-size-fits-all,’ Jason Lum said aboutB.C. plan for encampment teams
FVRD Chair Jason Lum attending the UBCM Housing Summit on April 4, 2023. (UBCM video screenshot)

The challenge of homelessness in B.C.’s rural areas needs a closer look by the province to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

That was the thinking from FVRD Chair Jason Lum at the UBCM Housing Summit last week, after the new $12 billion Homes for People announcement, that will see new regional response teams to quickly help those experiencing homelessness get housing.

With more than a dozen entrenched encampments in just one FVRD electoral area, the problem has been spreading in the Chilliwack River Valley and other rural areas of the Fraser Valley, he said.

“In terms of cost, it can be significant especially for the smaller electoral areas,” said Lum.

Along with the $12-billion ‘Homes for People’ action plan to deliver more housing faster, the provincial government also recently unveiled its ‘Belonging in BC’ plan to prevent and reduce homelessness by adding 3,900 new supportive-housing units and 240 complex-care spaces in B.C.

‘Belonging in BC’ features new “multidisciplinary regional response teams” designed to remove encampments and better support the unhoused to move inside with more housing options.

In terms of solutions and what FVRD would like from the province, “the most important thing is to make sure it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution,” Lum said.

For years, most of the homeless camp cleanups have been undertaken by volunteers. Last month the province announced $200,000 to cleanup abandoned camps in the Chilliwack River Valley.

Lum said rural communities and regional district electoral areas are simply not equipped to take on homelessness.

“We heard a lot about challenges with homelessness in the larger urban areas,” he said.

“But the discussion that I think falls between the cracks a little bit is the discussion around what happens in the rural areas, the electoral areas.”

B.C.’s new rapid response teams are being modelled on what they’re doing on the ground in big urban centres like Victoria and Seattle.

“What I’d like to see is a commitment to work with the rural areas,” Lum added.

RELATED: $200K for abandoned camp cleanups in Chilliwack River Valley

RELATED: Homeless-camp fire made area look like a wasteland

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering city hall, Indigenous, business, and climate change stories.
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