Twelve supportive housing providers operating across the Lower Mainland, Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island say they are collectively owed more than $20 million from BC Housing and that some operators are at risk of insolvency.
The 12 non-profits don’t specifically identify what the owed money is dedicated to but emphasized in an Oct. 13 letter to Deputy Housing Minister Teri Collins the high staff demands and costs of responding to the homelessness crisis.
“Our organizations do not currently have the capacity to respond to this crisis,” said the letter obtained by Glacier Media. “For years, our organizational capacity has been chronically underfunded, and this lack of organizational capacity now leaves us struggling to respond effectively.”
The organizations say the debt — “well over $20 million” — is threatening their solvency and that in the coming months many of them will not be able to meet their payroll obligations. The letter doesn’t identify which organizations are most at risk.
“This will impact the thousands of workers who rely on us for their livelihoods,” the letter said. “It will also impact our services and tenants, as well as the public perception of the sector.”
Collectively, the organizations manage more than 10,000 units of supportive housing, complex care housing, subsidized independent-living units and shelters in three regions in British Columbia.
Atira, Lu'ma, RainCity
The letter is signed by CEOs and executive directors of the following organizations:
• Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness
• Atira Women’s Resource Society
• Beacon Community Services
• Community Builders
• Lookout Housing and Health Society
• Lu’ma Native Housing Society
• Our Place Society
• Pacifica Housing
• PHS Community Services Society
• RainCity Housing and Support Society
• The Bloom Group
• Victoria Cool Aid Society
The organizations say they have attempted to convey the seriousness of their situation for more than a year via correspondence and meetings, individually and collectively, with BC Housing and the Ministry of Housing.
“During this time our situation has continued to deteriorate, and a resolution is now urgently required,” said the letter, which pointed out the organizations are at the forefront of the government’s homelessness strategy.
“The context in which we provide this work has reached levels of desperation not seen before in the histories of our organizations.”
Homelessness up across B.C.
The leaders noted this year’s homeless counts in March showed 1,655 people recorded in Greater Victoria, a nine per cent increase over the previous count in 2020. In Greater Vancouver, 4,821 people were counted for a 32 per cent increase from three years ago.
Other counts in B.C. also recorded increases in homelessness in cities such as Sechelt, Gibsons, Campbell River, Parksville and Qualicum. Vernon, Merritt, Smithers and Williams Lake also saw their homeless populations grow.
“The populations present with more acute needs requiring more complex care; many of our staffing and service models are no longer sustainable; staffing shortages are adding to an environment of increased health and safety risks; staff and service users alike are experiencing increased opposition and discrimination from the general public,” the letter said.
“Further, we are supporting particularly vulnerable populations that are disproportionately represented in the at risk/homeless population including Indigenous people, people from other racialized communities, and members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and we have much to learn about providing safe, dignifying supportive housing for these groups.”
The CEOs and executive directors say they work daily with their leadership teams to navigate and balance financial risk, cyber-risk, regulatory compliance, workforce health and safety.
That effort also applies to tenant health and safety — “especially related to the ongoing opioid poisoning epidemic” — stigma and discrimination within social and health systems, “municipal relations and opposition, public relations and opposition” and public safety issues.
“We simply do not have the capacity to address all of these risks and health and safety concerns,” the letter said.
“Yet these risks are too high to tolerate and if left unaddressed will increasingly impact all of us, including BC Housing. Ultimately, these risks undermine the foundation of the sector and have the potential to undermine the provincial homelessness strategy.”
'Significant and ongoing gaps'
The organizations have three requests of government:
• Address immediate financial risk.
“We urgently need BC Housing to expedite payment of all owed funds to our organizations and, where needed, provide written assurance to our boards that BCH will provide funds as needed to ensure our payroll continues uninterrupted.”
The organizations want their budgets to be approved within the first three months of the fiscal year and that any collective agreement increases, including retro pay, be issued immediately.
• Provide a minimum of a 15 per cent administration/indirect cost charge on all revenue in contracts with BC Housing.
“Our collective experience is that our current administration funding is far short of what we need for just the most basic transactional parts of our administration structure, leaving us with significant and ongoing gaps in finance, IT, human resources, facilities, and senior leadership. Without this, we cannot develop and maintain the capacity to meet the exponentially growing need in our communities.”
• Provide a five per cent emergency risk and health and safety mitigation surcharge for each organization.
“The surcharge would provide our organizations with resources to mitigate our most serious risks and health and safety concerns as we navigate the foundational shifts in our operating environment articulated above. The [surcharge] would be annualized funding, as the risks described above are built into our industry and cannot be dealt with on a one-off basis.”
The organizations say the five per cent surcharge could be calculated from the total revenue in their BC Housing budgets.
“We would be completely transparent with BCH regarding the use of these funds.”
Ministry of Housing response
A representative from the Ministry of Housing's communications team said in an email Monday that "we are working together with these organizations and with BC Housing to address any and all concerns that are not yet resolved."
"BC Housing staff is seeking further details from non-profit providers on cost impacts for retroactive and current wage increases, as well as inflation impacts, and resource constraint costs," the representative said. "BC Housing is also working to expedite funding adjustments required to address current and retroactive funding pressures."
The email said the provincial government is dedicated to building on work with partners to respond to homelessness in B.C. communities.
"Belonging in B.C., a plan to prevent and reduce homelessness, adds 3,900 new supportive housing units and 240 complex-care spaces provincewide, and creates multidisciplinary regional response teams designed to rapidly respond to encampments to better support people sheltering outdoors move inside," the email said.
"We value the concerns of our service providers, and that’s why we are working with them to find solutions to their concerns together."