06/27/2018 12:30 EDT | Updated 06/27/2018 12:55 EDT

Vancouver Street View's Before-And-After Photos Capture Housing And Homelessness 'Crisis'

"We need to start saying that this is an emergency."

Vancouver Street View
A side-by-side view of Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver between 2016 and 2017.

Homelessness has increased by 30 per cent in the greater Vancouver Area between 2014 and 2017, and a not-for-profit's new campaign aims to shed light on how affordable, social housing can combat this growing problem.

RainCity Housing, a local NGO, launched the interactive Vancouver Street View website last Friday, giving readers a chance to slide between before-and-after Google Street View images of how homelessness affects the same street corner over a small span of time. The site advises you to "be a good neighbour" and "support social housing initiatives" for the restorative benefits they can bring to a community.

"There are a lot of people who don't want to support social housing, but here's a lot of people out there that recognize this [level of homelessness] as a real crisis," said Aaron Munro, the associate director of RainCity Housing and Support Society, in a phone interview with HuffPost Canada.

"We need to start saying that this is an emergency."Aaron Munro, associate director of RainCity Housing and Support Society

"We have to stop people from living outside that become really ill and [homelessness] takes years off people's lives," said Munro. "I don't think we're meant to live off that type of hypervigilance, that lack of food and that lack of sleep that they need, and we need to start saying that this is an emergency."

Munro said he has received "really positive feedback" about the campaign and that "a lot of people really wanting to get involved."

RainCity took its campaign data from the 2017 Metro Vancouver Housing Final Report, which polled Vancouver's homeless population for its findings. About half of the report's respondents listed high rental rates or low income as a barrier to finding a place of their own. The survey also found that 34 per cent of the sampled homeless population identified as Indigenous. 83 per cent of those sampled also reported having at least one medical condition, ranging from addiction to mental illness, or a physical disability.

While the Vancouver Sun reports roughly 200 affordable housing units were built in 2017, and 1,500 more are approved for development, Munro believes additional support is needed at both the community level and beyond.

"Most of those projects were partnerships between the municipalities and provincial governments as well," said Munro. "They're good examples of neighbourhoods coming together at different levels of government and actually supplying different levels of housing for people."

But ultimately, Munro believes the public needs to rally for their communities, in order for this change to be long-lasting.

"What we're hoping is that the average citizen will say we want social housing in our neighbourhoods, we want to be part of the solution and say yes in my backyard."

"It's been an issue cities like Vancouver have been dealing with for a long time, but we've been seeing pop up across cities across British Columbia.... People are really suffering, also hope for a public response, we're going to put pressure on governments on all levels to make sure people aren't living in doorways, and we want our communities to be healthier."

An official count conducted on March 13 and 14 found that 2,181 people in Vancouver were homeless, with 659 living on the street and another 1,522 in shelters. The CBC reports 52 per cent of these respondents had been homeless for less than a year.

And Munro believes paying it forward with swift action will help keep more people off the streets longterm.

"I've had the privilege of seeing so many people move from the streets into housing and seeing miraculous amounts of change happen: reconnecting with family, levels of sobriety," said Munro. "I've seen so many people who worked to exit homelessness and work to help other people exit homelessness and it's a great privilege."

The website ends with a call to action, asking readers to contact their local municipality and to connect with their provincial representative too, because, "A home for every person is possible."

"I want my three-year-old daughter to grow up thinking we don't want her to grow up on the street and that we have a social contract that doesn't allow that," said Munro.

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