Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in support of Motion No. 147, which was introduced by my colleague from Saskatoon West, to create a special committee on homelessness. This is one of the most important motions that have been put forward in the House, and I want to speak about the importance of that.
I really appreciate my colleague from the Conservative Party who talked about not everyone having a home. It is really important we bring that up, because it is so true throughout our country. We know in every community homelessness exists, but it does not just exist. It is on the rise. I really appreciate that we are here today. The government talks about what it is doing, where it has been, and what it is doing about this issue. I do not want talk about who is doing what. I want to talk about the people who do not have a home. That is what this is about and what we need to talk about. I do not think the government understands the sense of urgency in our community for people's lives and the families being affected by homelessness. We know it affects everyone.
One thing we do not talk about is that we are all one tragedy away from being on the street. I was in Port Alberni at the shelter and met this wonderful man who had lived a great life. He had worked his whole life, was getting ready for retirement, but then lost his wife in a tragic accident. He does not remember the last three years. It just vanished. He woke up and was in the shelter in Port Alberni when he realized what had happened to him, and he had lost everything. That could happen to any one of us. We are all one tragedy or incident away from being on the street. We are seeing it all the time with people experimenting with drugs, especially with the opioid crisis.
I will speak about my riding because that is what I know best. We do not talk a lot about homelessness in rural communities. Right now, we have a housing crisis in our country. We talk a lot about the greater Toronto area, Vancouver, and the greater Vancouver area. However, on Vancouver Island, we are in close proximity to Vancouver and the spillover effect is having a massive impact in our communities. In fact, we are seeing real estate prices being driven up more than 20% over last year. For people who are marginalized or struggling, it plays out in such a way that they are moving from the mainland to Victoria or Nanaimo, and the people in those communities are being pushed out into more remote communities.
I live in one of those communities, Port Alberni, which was the most affordable place in southwestern British Columbia. It had a disproportionate amount of people living on income assistance. In fact, Port Alberni was 250% above the provincial average for people living on income assistance. The reason being was that people could rent a place for $400 a month, be earning $635 a month on income assistance, and could afford to live there on a meagre income of $235 a month to buy groceries, medicine, and clothing. However, as we know, people living with low incomes, many people living with disabilities receiving low incomes to survive, were gravitating to our communities in Courtenay and Port Alberni because they were affordable.
However, now we are seeing our real estate prices getting pushed up. People living on low incomes often have a transient place to live because sometimes they cannot make ends meet and have to move out. Their landlord moves them out because they could not pay their bills. There is nowhere for them to go now. They cannot afford to live anywhere on their meagre income and are ending up on the street. We have never seen a housing crisis like this, ever, on Vancouver Island.
In Courtenay, for example, the vacancy rate is 0.4% in the Comox Valley. We have incredible organizations working there trying to find people a place to live. However, we have not built one purpose-built place to live for low-barrier housing in the Comox Valley, never, and that is not working right now when we have a housing crisis. We now have hundreds of people living on the street, and we are not prepared. It is great to have a national housing strategy, but we need a strategy focused on people living on the street. They are facing different situations. We need work that is integrated with the provinces.
People living on the street move. We cannot just download it to local government and say it is their responsibility to fix it. This is a national problem, and people who are vulnerable, living on the street, are transient. They are moving around because they have nowhere to go. It is important that we recognize that.
I met a man in Port Alberni at the Port Alberni Shelter Society. He was living in a low-barrier house. I found out about his story. I will call him John. I have told this story in the House, but I want to protect him and his family. His story is this. John drinks every day. He still does. However, he used to drink every day and end up on the street where he lived drunk. He would pass out and the police would get called, or the fire or ambulance. They would take him to the hospital, tying up an acute care bed in the hospital, and they might do X-rays. Other times, they would throw him into a cell at the RCMP, then release him, and he would do it all over again.
To lowball it, let us call it $2,000 a day, because it was every day. I am going to lowball it even more and say it is only $600,000 a year. However, the Port Alberni Shelter Society operates on funds raised by the city, the good people of Port Alberni, the good people in the community, and the business community. People donate because they care. They know that everyone deserves a roof over their heads.
The Port Alberni Shelter Society is bursting at the seams. It cannot house the amount of people who need a place to live. They found him a place to live in low-barrier housing, at $475 a month. Let us call it $6,000 a year, instead of $600,000 a year. To those people who say we should not be funding people that need a place to live because it is not our responsibility as taxpayers, I say it is prudent as government leaders to protect taxpayers and make sure people who are vulnerable, who are living on the streets, have dignity and a place to sleep, like my friend in Port Alberni. He has a shower every day, a bed to sleep in, and he has dignity. His story is so powerful. All the first responders know him. They know his story, and they know it is the right thing to do.
I met a single mom in Courtenay. She said she was born and raised there. Her parents, her grandparents, and great-grandparents lived there, and she may have to leave her community because she has nowhere to go. She is a single mom. She asked, “How am I supposed to get by?” With rent growing at 20% a year, we know it is impossible for that to be sustainable. That is not just impacting people who are struggling, who feel vulnerable, and who might give up. They might give up because it is too hard, but it affects our culture. It affects our community and our knowledge.
I want to highlight some of the people being affected. We have the highest youth unemployment rate we have seen in decades in our country and on Vancouver Island. We have a housing crisis. We have a really difficult time for seniors and veterans. As the critic for veterans affairs, I had the chance to meet the representative, Deb Lowther from VETS Canada. She says she thinks there are probably easily about 5,000 veterans living on the streets of our country. Clearly, we have a problem when our veterans do not have a place to live, and when our seniors do not have a place to live. We have to fix this.
A special committee would do that. It would put the attention on the people who are the most vulnerable in our society. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, yet we have a skyrocketing problem with homelessness. We have an opioid crisis right now, which is impacting every community across our country. When people are living on the street, how are they supposed to heal? How are they supposed to get the rehabilitation they need if they have addictions or mental health issues? They need a place to live.
It is good for the economy. It is good for business people. We have seen crime skyrocket in my community. Businesses are closing because homeless people who are feeding addictions and struggling need a place to live. I outlined the savings to the taxpayers for services, for the criminal justice system, and for the health care system. I could go on and on. It is also good for businesses.
My friend from Kootenay—Columbia talked about how it is affecting his community. It is not just my community. It is rural communities across the country.
The Prime Minister's goal of cutting homelessness by 50% in the next 10 years is not acceptable. Where is the urgency from the government? If the Liberals support the motion, then it shows they back up the sense of urgency and that they understand how urgent this is for the most vulnerable people in our communities.
I want to thank my colleague for introducing this very important motion in the House.