“What if the man and his child didn’t find their way to my office? What if… you know, there’s all these what ifs.”
That, from Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert after a homeless man and his toddler son turned up at his constituency office today.
He says the pair had arrived from out of province with nowhere to stay, and went to a Ministry of Social Development office looking for shelter.
Instead, he says they were told there was nothing staff could do, and were sent to his office instead.
He says that’s a terrifying thought.
“A man and a toddler, a dad and his kid, homeless on the street. You know, you have to spend a night outside, and anything could happen. And it’s not a safe place for anybody, let alone a kid.”
“It raises questions about why he was sent away without a shelter space or a housing option for him and his kid. To be sending a man in the street with no place to go, a toddler, how could this be done in a province like ours?”
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Chandra-Herbert says his staff spent the rest of the day trying to find shelter for the pair – a problem exacerbated by the fact that there are only two shelters in Metro Vancouver that can take both a man and a child- and both were full.
Eventually they were able to get help from a non-profit to work out emergency housing for the next two days.
He says the situation is distressing, but he doesn’t want to point fingers at individual staff.
“I think the issue is one of people being overworked, under resourced, and incredible demand. Somehow this got missed, or somehow the regulations as written were not condusive to finding someone from out of province somewhere to stay.”
But he says it highlights major gaps in the province’s housing strategy, the persistent need for housing and shelter options for more diverse groups of people – including children.
“We’ve got to find out exactly why this went so wrong, because if this is happening to a man with a toddler, you know, there’s other people out there who seem to be falling through the cracks. We certainly see them on the street when we do the homelessness count.”
He says provincially and federally more money are needed, and soon, if crisis situations like this are to be handled better in the future.
In response, a Ministry spokesperson has issued a statement in which Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwel says she cannont comment on specific cases for privacy reasons.
But she says Ministry staff would always connect new arrivals with housing to find a shelter, if needed, to ensure their basic nees are met, and people in immediate need are eligible to receive hardship assistance.
So, did Ministry staff turn away the homeless man with the toddler, and send them to the local MLA’s office?
The statement doesn’t say.