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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The continuum of shelter uncertainty: a case study of Vancouver planning responses to homelessness Gagan, Gagan, Tracey Tracey


One of the major obstacles to dealing with homelessness has been the difficulty in defining the term. In the mid-1980s, the United Nations proposed a definition of homelessness which acknowledges a range of housing related needs. However, in practice the public sector generally uses a narrower meaning of the term, considering only those who are dependent on emergency shelters and those absolutely without shelter, to be “homeless”. No common definition of homelessness has gained wide acceptance in Canada. Conceptual gaps are created, as the problem of homelessness is defined differently by various sectors and levels of government. The absence of formal recognition of this complex social problem has not served to diminish its impact. An alternative concept of homelessness relates to the continuum of shelter uncertainty among the poverty population. Certain markings of vulnerability to homelessness have been identified to determine which groups are “at risk” of experiencing homelessness. This thesis contends that the broader concept of homeless may be utilized at the municipal level, to better characterise the local nature of the problem and inform responses to local housing need. A case study is presented to explore how the term “homelessness” is operationalized by the City of Vancouver. The opportunities and constraints of municipal housing planning and policy in addressing homelessness are analyzed. Service providers and government representatives were surveyed to evaluate the effectiveness of the City of Vancouver’s responses to the homeless. While the limitations on municipal action were acknowledged, respondents generally support an expanded role for the City as a more proactive facilitator and advocate. The study finds that the range and diversity of acute housing need in the Vancouver case, supports the rationale for broadening the meaning of homelessness and including at risk groups in local planning for the homeless.

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