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British Columbians dissatisfied with local action on homelessness, poll finds

Research Co. and Glacier Media examined attitudes toward government action on the issue of homelessness
Tents and shelters in Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood

It is safe to say that British Columbians remain dissatisfied with the way in which elected officials – including a new premier and new councils – have managed the issue of homelessness.

Just over one in five residents of the province (21 per cent) believe the federal government has done a “very good” or “good” job coming up with solutions to deal with homelessness.

This is up one point since August 2022, when Research Co. and Glacier Media last examined this issue.

The stagnant rating for Ottawa is terrible news for the governing Liberal Party, which pledged to reduce “chronic homelessness” by 50 per cent by 2028. In November, Auditor General Karen Hogan pointed out that the federal government does not know if its initiatives are working. Most British Columbians appear to share Hogan’s point of view.

The rating is only marginally better for the B.C. provincial government (28 per cent, up one point) and municipal governments (27 per cent, down two points). In Metro Vancouver, where mayors in the two most populous municipalities are in the first year of their tenures, 58 per cent of residents rate the efforts to deal with homelessness as “bad” or “very bad.”

When British Columbians rate the problem locally, the numbers are not particularly dramatic. About one in four (24 per cent, down three points) think homelessness is a major problem in their neighbourhood and 40 per cent (down two points) believe it has increased over the past three years.

The numbers on these two questions are stable when residents assess their municipality. More than half (52 per cent, unchanged) think homelessness is a significant issue and 64 per cent (up one point) say it is getting worse. Views are more fatalistic on a provincewide basis, with 80 per cent of respondents (up one point) saying that homelessness has increased across B.C.; 78 per cent (up five points) consider it a major problem.

One aspect where the perceptions of British Columbians seem to be hardening is the perceived causes of homelessness. More than three in five of the province’s residents (63 per cent, up three points) believe addiction and mental health issues are to blame “a great deal” for the current state of affairs – by far the highest number among five different issues tested.

Fewer than half of British Columbians (47 per cent, down six points) think a lack of affordable housing is to blame “a great deal.” The proportions are lower for poverty and inequality (34 per cent, down seven points), the personal actions and decisions of individuals (31 per cent, up one point) and a bad economy and unemployment (19 per cent, down five points).

The province remains split on whether this is a challenge that can be successfully tackled. For 50 per cent of British Columbians, homelessness can be eradicated with the proper policies and funding. For 48 per cent, it will always be a problem.

There may be a divide on the future, but not on some possible solutions to alleviate the crisis. More than four in five British Columbians (82 per cent, up two points) agree with increasing temporary housing options for people experiencing homelessness, and more than three in four (77 per cent, down one point) would offer incentives to developers if they focus on building affordable housing units.

Most British Columbians also favour two other policies: Devoting tax money to build units to house homeless residents (67 per cent, unchanged) and changing zoning laws to allow property owners to build more units on standard lots (62 per cent, up two points).

Some of the political players have changed, but the dissatisfaction of British Columbians on how homelessness is being handled remains. The survey confirms that most of the province’s residents continue to regard housing policies as their preferred way to mitigate the crisis. It is up to elected officials, whose favourability on this issue is painfully low, to take action. 

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from April 23-25, among 800 adults in B.C. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.