Building a Thriving Community in Prince George
We all want healthy, vibrant and livable communities for our families and our children. But homelessness and the affordability crisis are eroding our community at the very core. It’s important for long-term planning to create systems that will lead to economic vitality that truly benefits everyone.
This has become more important than ever during these challenging times. We are in the midst of four crises: a housing shortage, a pandemic, a mental health crisis, and an overdose crisis. All four significantly and disproportionately impact those experiencing or at-risk of homelessness.
“Homelessness and the affordability crisis are impacting us all. We see it in increased health care and first responder costs. People are unable to gain employment because they don’t have a safe, affordable place to call home,” says BC Housing Northern Region Operations Director Malachy Tohill. “Some people need to commute from long distances into the city because they can’t afford homes nearby.”
There are many factors that impact whether a person experiences homelessness. These can include poverty, discrimination, a lack of affordable housing, the impact of colonization on Indigenous peoples, traumatic events, mental health issues, addiction issues, abuse, health issues, systems that reinforce or perpetuate homelessness such as being discharged from the hospital or corrections onto the streets, or someone aging out of foster care into a situation with no supports.
In 2018, volunteers led a homeless count that found 160 people living either on the streets or in shelters across Prince George. 80% identified as Indigenous, while only 14% of Prince George’s population is Indigenous. 96% reported wanting permanent housing. A new homeless count was done in March 2021 and results are being analyzed currently. Addressing homelessness in any community requires a collaborative approach to be successful. In Prince George, partners include the provincial government, Northern Health, the City of Prince George, housing and shelter operators, service providers, the community at large, and most importantly – people who are experiencing homelessness.
BC Housing is committed to building a continuum of new housing in Prince George in partnership with the City of Prince George, Northern Health and local housing and service providers. While there is an urgent need to build new homes with supports for people experiencing homelessness, there is also a range of affordable housing needs for people in Prince George.
“Since 2017, we’ve worked with non-profit partners, developers and the local construction sector to build and or renovate 155 new homes for people experiencing homelessness, seniors, people with disabilities, women and children fleeing violence, low-income families,” says BC Housing Northern Region Development Director Amy Wong. “This number represents work for local businesses, new jobs for staff at these buildings and investment in the local economy. “
BC Housing opened Ts’oo Yoh on Spruce Street in 2018 – 27 apartments for low to moderate income Elders and seniors, managed by the Aboriginal Housing Society of Prince George.
In 2019, BC Housing bought and renovated the old Economy Inn on 3rd and Edmonton, to become Olive’s Branch – 28 studio homes with 24/7 supports for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, which is managed by the Association Advocating for Women and Community (AWAC).
BC Housing is currently working with partners on building more than 300 new homes for Prince George. This includes 74 homes for women and children fleeing violence; 172 new homes with supports for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness; and approximately 50 new affordable rental homes. There are also 144 families and 290 seniors receiving assistance in the private market. These are part of the long-term work to address housing needs in Prince George.
BC Housing’s HousingHub is an innovative way that the province is financing developers to build new housing for middle-income earners – our teachers, health care workers, retail and service workers, construction workers. The people who work in the jobs that keep our province running. HousingHub not only support families, it also supports our economy, by ensuring housing is available for the new workers that growing businesses are counting on.
BC Housing is collaborating with the City of Prince George and Northern Health on one of the most significant and innovative housing projects in Northern BC, at 805/855 First Avenue (the previous location of NR Motors). Together, the partners are adding 150 new affordable homes integrated with healthcare services to serve the community’s most vulnerable populations and improve the community, particularly the downtown area.
“Often people confuse supportive housing with shelters,” explains Tohill. “Shelters are an immediate response to bring people inside and offer a bed or mat for the night – but this isn’t a long-term solution.”
Supportive housing is a studio apartment, with supports provided on-site 24/7 by staff and with connections to community service providers. People pay rent. This is an important step for people who are living outdoors or in shelters or couch surfing – an opportunity to maintain stable, safe housing and start working on moving forward with their lives.
“Not only does new housing benefit people in need, it has positive impacts on the broader economy and economic recovery,” explains Wong. “Our research found that on average, a person experiencing homelessness with addictions or mental illness used $55,000 per year in health care and corrections services compared to $37,000 for a person in supportive housing. We also found that every dollar invested in affordable rental and supportive housing creates between two and five dollars in social and economic value for the community. Neighbourhoods benefit from improved well-being and increased local spending.”
We need to work together to support everyone in our communities, while also ensuring that we’re fostering economic recovery. Together we can build healthy, vibrant and livable communities that our great grandchildren will thrive in.
Learn more about BC Housing:
⦁ Community Stories: www.bchousing.org/news/community-stories
⦁ COVID Housing Sector updates: www.bchousing.org/COVID-19
⦁ Are you eligible for housing programs?: www.bchousing.org/housing-assistance/program-finder
⦁ Community Benefits of Supportive Housing: www.bchousing.org/research-centre/library/community-acceptance/community-benefits-supportive-housing
⦁ Engage on new projects in your region: www.letstalkhousingbc.ca/projects
⦁ Affordable Housing Quarterly Progress Report: www.bchousing.org/publications/Affordable-Housing-Quarterly-Progress-Q1.pdf