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City, province commit to working together to tackle homelessness problems in Prince George

Premier David Eby along with Prince George city councillors Cori Ramsay, Garth Frizzell, Kyle Sampson, and Tim Bennett. City of Prince George photo

The province and the City of Prince George have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that formalizes a commitment to work together to better support people who are homeless and sheltering in encampments and to help prevent encampments.

“Our government is committed to working with the City of Prince George to provide people with better supports and a safe place to live in a way that will improve everyone’s quality of life in the city,” said Premier David Eby, in Prince George Friday. “Today’s agreement formalizes this commitment to work together to help people sheltering outdoors move inside, and ultimately into safe, stable, supportive homes.”

The MOU clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the province and city to prioritize the health and safety of people living outdoors and to bring them inside. This includes the province partnering with Prince George to implement the new Homeless Encampment Action Response Teams (HEART) and Homeless Encampment Action Response Temporary Housing (HEARTH) programs. These new initiatives will support people in encampments on the path to stable housing.

“Through the Belonging in BC homelessness plan, we’re creating new tools that will deliver the much-needed supports and housing to prevent encampments over the long term,” said Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Housing. “We’re proud to work with the City of Prince George and Indigenous partners to deliver housing for the people who need it most. This is one of the many steps our government is taking to break the cycle of homelessness, and I am excited to see it move forward.”

HEART is a new multidisciplinary regional program designed to rapidly respond to encampments to better support the homeless to move inside. The program will bring together the provincial and local governments, Indigenous and First Nations partners, Northern Health and non-profit organizations to quickly assess the needs of people living in encampments and provide rapid access to the supports and services they need to exit homelessness. Health, sanitation, income, harm reduction, fire safety, and social and cultural supports will all be provided through the program.

In addition, the HEARTH program will provide emergency housing, shelter options and immediate co-ordinated supports to assist people in encampments or sheltering in public spaces to come inside and access temporary or permanent housing options that fit their needs.

The Province and BC Housing will lead the creation of the HEART and HEARTH programs in Prince George. Implementation of HEART is planned to begin in fall 2023, while HEARTH will begin operating in spring 2024. The city will suggest available land and expedite rezoning and permitting approvals for new shelter and supportive housing projects that will be identified as part of the encampment response plan.

“I am pleased the city will be working to support the Province in its work to address priorities related to housing, health and public safety,” said Mayor Simon Yu. “We expect this co-ordinated approach will address the immediate and long-term needs of our most vulnerable citizens who have been living in crisis for far too long.”

The MOU also outlines provincial and municipal commitments to help prevent and respond to future encampments in Prince George. This includes:

  • a cross-ministry and co-ordinated response to homeless encampments on crown and other lands through the rapid provision of outreach and increased access to supports;
  • exploration of the potential use of municipal levers, such as tax exemptions, zoning and bylaws, to expedite social housing units and affordable housing in alignment with BC Housing’s funding programs and the community’s housing needs; and
  • engagement with First Nations and Indigenous organizations to develop and facilitate access to culturally safe and supportive practices for Indigenous people sheltering in encampments.

Both the HEART and HEARTH programs are part of Belonging in BC, the province’s plan to prevent and reduce homelessness. The plan will also add 3,900 new supportive housing units and 240 complex-care spaces provincewide.

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