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More than 1,000 out for Ladner-Robertson homeless debate

October 23rd, 2008 · 17 Comments

The long series of debates between Vancouver’s two mayoral candidates drew the biggest crowd ever tonight, i’m told more than 1,000 were at the event at St. Andrew’s Wesley, as people came out to hear the two talk about what they would do when it comes to solutions for homelessness, affordable housing and mental illness. Combined with the 400 who went out to a very different event this morning, the Vancouver Sun-sponsored debate at the Board of Trade, that made for quite a wide-ranging day. The elements of the morning’s debate are here, thanks to the Sun’s Derrick Penner.

There was so much discussed tonight that I can’t possibly capture it all, but here are the highlights.

1. Gregor introduced in his opening statement some main points of Vision’s homelessness plan (at last some details). That included:

– Ensuring there are enough shelter beds in the city

– Using city bylaws to make sure rental buildings are safe and kept up, even if the city has to do repairs itself and bill the owner

– Increasing the city’s outreach teams

– Creating a mental-health advocate for th city

– Expanding training programs to help street youth get into jobs

– Protecting low-income rental units throughout the city

– Being a “strong voice” in Victoria and Ottawa.

Each of the candidates got asked a series of yes/no questions:

1. Would you hire a mental health advocate, considering the city is already facing a 10-per-cent tax hike. Peter: no; Gregor: yes.

2. Would you continue Project Civil City? Peter: yes; Gregor: no.

3. The current mix of non-market or SRO housing and market housing is 75/25. Should stay at that level? Gregor: Yes, around there with input from the community; Peter: No, it should change.

4. Do you think there should be an annual report to the city on what’s been done about homelessness? Peter: Yes, but don’t we have one already? Gregor: Yes

5. The city has a temporary moratorium on demolition or conversion or its stock of low-rise, three-storey rental housing. Do you support extending or modifying that? Gregor: Yes, extend it to ensure there’s no net loss of housing. Peter: No, I don’t like moratoriums. They encourage buildings to become rundown.

6. The city currently has two supervised-injection sites. Do you support a third one along the model of the Insite facility, which has treatment and transitional housing as well on site? Gregor: Yes. Peter: I’m leaving that up to the health authority to decide. (He was told he had to answer yes or no.) No.

7. There are several SRO buildings in Vancouver that are empty as the owners await redevelopment. Do you support having the city meet with the owners to try to convince them to lease their rooms out temporarily. Gregor: Yes. Peter – Yes.

8. The Little Mountain social housing complex currently has over 100 empty units. Do you beleave the city should put pressure on BC Housing to fill those temporarily. Peter: I couldn’t understand his answer. Gregor: Yes.

9. Would you support having Vancouver establish a living-wage policy, where it would commit to paying any workers or people employed through contracts a living wage, defined here locally as about $16.50 an hour? Peter: That’s more than councillors make. Gregor: Is that why you’re running for mayor? Jokes aside, Peter: No, because I don’t know what the impact would be on city finances. Gregor: Yes, I’d like to see that.

Then the two got to give long-answer responses to more detailed (sometimes a lot more detailed) questions from the panel members, which included me, The Tyee’s Monte Paulsen, and former provincial mental-health advocate Nancy Hall.

In general, I’d say that Peter Ladner shows a lot more passion and empathy on these issues than I think people gave him credit for in the past, along with knowledge of many of the subtleties. On the other hand, Gregor, whom I’ve frequently noted in the past has not displayed a lot of detailed knowledge, showed a couple of times that he had a more in-depth analysis on a particular issue that Peter did.

What continues to be very boring for those of us in the listening audience are the misleading accusations and criticisms made about the other candidate. (For Peter, his accusations that Gregor has never even talked to Housing Minister Rich Coleman in his years in Victoria. Who cares? To my knowledge, Peter, who refused to go along on Victoria lobbying trips with his now-deposed mayor Sam Sullivan, has done little more than chitchat with Coleman at housing announcements. For Gregor, it’s the accusation that the NPA council has done absolutely nothing about homelessness. While you could argue that they could have made homelessness even more of a priority or they wasted their money on useless side projects or that they were only pushed into action by the upcoming Olympics, it’s silly and untrue to say they did nothing.)

Okay, enough of my picky ranting. Onto what they had to say — I’ll pick out the one thing they had to say on the topic that seemed like their essential message.

1. What will you do about people sleeping on the streets?
Peter: “I don’t think the city should jump in and build shelters. Our taxpayers cannot do everything. We need to be strategic and thoughtful.” Gregor: “I don’t think there’s anything strategic or thoughtful about forcing people to sleep outside. We can make space for hundreds and hundreds of people. I would like to see a whole lot more energy and effort put into dealing with the short-term crisis.”

2. How will you pay for your homelessness plans? (to Gregor)

Gregor: “We are in the process of costing the plan but it won’t cost much.” Money now going to Project Civil City can be put in, but I don’t see this adding to the tax burden or requiring us to cut services somewhere else.

3. Why do you keep saying the NPA has created 3,800 housing units when that’s not true? Monte Paulsen went into quite an analysis of the numbers, saying that the 900 rooms that are existing hotels being fixed up don’t really count, another 900 units were actually started under the previous council, and 1,100 units underway now might never get funded.

I won’t attempt to reproduce the boxing match that went on, but suffice it to say there was one. Peter argued back that it does make a difference to have a decent hotel room rather than one occupied by cockroaches, mice and rats. He also pointed out that the NPA council has taken a considerable amount of heat while approving new social-housing sites (that’s a fact, especially in Yaletown and Dunbar). He also said he has no question the provincial government will fund all 12 of the new social-housing sites now being planned.

3. What about creating psychiatric hospital beds?

Unsurprisingly, neither candidate opposed the idea of doing this and both talked about the necessity of having options like making better use of Riverview. (Peter Ladner, however, accused Coqutilam of causing that project to be stalled — that ought to make Maxine Wilson hopping mad. The mayor of Coquitlam has been fighting to get the province to stick with the original plan, which was park land and facilities for mental health, as it used to be. Coleman has been talking about building a massive market housing complex on the site, which is what Coquitlam is concerned about.)

4. What’s your vision of how to create affordable housing in the second phase of Southeast False Creek? (Remember, in the first phase, the Olympic village, the new NPA council decided to change the plan to have one-third social housing, one-third low-cost rental and one-third market. Instead, it will be about 30 per cent social housing now and less than 10 per cent low-cost rental. However, they did vote that for the second phase, they would try to stick with the one-thirds model.) In what was a surprise answer to me, Peter said he wasn’t sure that one-third model would work any more for the second phase. “The second phase needs a lot of thought.” Gregor repeated the standard line that the NPA blew the first phase by going for top dollar and a developer who would build luxury condos. I never really got an answer to that question from him.

What was more interesting was when Nancy followed up with a question about what the two might push for at Little Mountain. Peter said the city has been promised $75 million by the provincial government from the profits of that site to invest anywhere it likes to create social housing. He said that it should be invested away from there so as to get the most housing for the money, since that development, which is close to Queen Elizabeth Park and other attractive amenities, will be too expensive. Gregor asked where the “other places” are that social housing is going to go, then, and he expressed concern that an NPA council will only want to put social housing in places that are less desirable and away from the kinds of services that other residents get to enjoy.

In a couple of his sharper moments of the night, he also pointed out that Peter was mixing up the definitions of social and low-cost market housing (which was true at that point). He also was quick to point out that Peter’s argument that the city should lobby for tax changes could be a long time coming, since it’s been 35 years since the federal government got rid of the tax incentives for building apartments and intense lobby efforts at all levels since then have been unsuccessful in getting them to change that back.

When asked which pillar in the city’s Four Pillars drug policy they thought was the weakest, Peter said prevention, Gregor said treatment. Peter said there doesn’t need to be any more money for enforcement. “We spend 75 per cent of our dollars on enforcement.” What the city needs from its council is for its members to fight to make sure that treatment space is available, even when local residents are opposed to having a facility in their area.

Categories: 2008 Vancouver Civic Election

  • Scott

    2. How will you pay for your homelessness plans? (to Gregor)

    Gregor: “We are in the process of costing the plan but it won’t cost much.”

    After reading that statement, I’m sure that every municipal politician from Victoria to Kelowna to Prince George will be at Gregor’s doorstep tomorrow morning looking for his “magic financial formula”!

  • Wagamuffin

    It’s about time this was said…and Gary Mason has made the case eloquently…

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com:80/servlet/story/LAC.20081023.BCMASON23/TPStory/Comment

  • Thanks Frances for taking the time to summarize the debate — the good, the bad and the ugly. Very informative.

  • Wagatoast

    I was expecting better from Peter last night. Both were asked to outline their plans for dealing with homelessness. Gregor gave a plan step by step in his opening speech.

    Peter gave a ridiculous story about 3 monks, and then rambled on about staying the course with the homeless action plan (the one he voted against).

    I thought he was the one with experience? 6 years on council, and the best he can offeron homelessness is “let’s stay the course on something I’ve never supported?”

  • Todd

    Thanks from myself as well, Francis for continuing to write up the debates. It’s amazing how a handful of yes/no questions illuminate the differences between these two. I wasn’t keen on Mr. Ladner from the start, but this really confirms it.

    While not the biggest reason, anyone who would keep the absurd and morally grotesque Civil City project going isn’t fit for council or the mayoral seat, as far as I’m concerned.

  • A Dave

    Hmmn, Ladner spent the first couple of debates telling Robertson he was too inexperienced to know there is a Housing Plan in place, and now he says it doesn’t work and we should just gentrify? The reason all the studies and housing plans haven’t worked on the DTES is simple: local governments haven’t acted meaningfully on the key recommendations (case in point: Ladner says no to a mental health advocate). They ignore their own advice for years, then, when things get really bad, they throw up their hands and say the plan doesn’t work, let the market decide. Isn’t this one of the Premier’s dirty tricks?

    And why is Ladner suddenly afraid of the word “moratorium?” Without a moratorium in place the DTES heritage buildings have already become run down, yet he is afraid that moratorium will do this more? Ironically, when the downtown core started getting short of office space, no one blinked an eye when council passed a moratorium on new residential developments to foster the building of more office towers. Neither the NPA nor the business community hesitated in imposing this moratorium to help business interests and address an imbalance created by the free market. They ask for as little government regulation as possible, but when deregulation naturally bears an ugly fruit, they lobby and the government immediately intervenes. Not years of study and public debate. Just swift, decisive action to deal with the issue…

    If Ladner and pundits like Gary Mason are concerned about a public embarrassment, they should think really hard about what trying to “normalize” the DTES will mean. There is a big distinction here that Robertson clearly gets. Displacement doesn’t solve the root problems, as other commentators on these debates have pointed out, and there’s lots of research to back this up. Florida, Sacco, UNESCO studies on projects in other cities facing similar problems that show a better way, one that preserves diversity and instils pride both in the local community and the city at large without displacement. The Pantages Theatre development should be our model for the DTES. It is welcomed as a positive change here, whereas Concorde’s condo development two blocks west is a battleground. Vancouverism has no place on the DTES unless we don’t care about our city’s diversity, heritage, history, arts and culture, and those that fall between the cracks. You get a civil city by being civil to those who live there, not by forcing the undesirables to leave.

  • St. Petersburg

    Only the wonks of COPE/Vision and people who read this website think the DTES should preserve itself as a poverty district. The vast majority of voters understand that a mixed environment with new homes and businesses will only unleash that community from the grips of the status quo.

  • Joe just Joe

    Just posted a long post but it was lost into intraweb space.

    I agree with St. Petersburg’s comment above. I’ve lived in the DTES for years, and will be moving back there shortly. The status quo is not working , anyone that wants to help can not help themselves there. Not for a lack of services but because of the constant reminder thanks to the surronding.
    Countless studies have shown that dispersement of services across the region provide the best chance of being succesful. There will be hard battles with the nimbys trying to stop these services from opening in there backyards but it is needed. The current government created concentration of services has created a ghetto like environment.
    I don’t know if gentrifying the area will help But so long as services are replaced at least one for one elsewhere it will give those that want help a much improved chance.

  • Dawn Steele

    It’s bizarre that we can look at two sides of the same coin and argue forever about whether it’s a head or a tail when really it’s just about which side you happen to be looking at. But I guess we manage to do that on all sorts of issues all the time.

    Gary Mason argues that cleaning up the DTES will, um, clean it up. Well, duh!

    He has no time for others who argue that a clean-up won’t solve the underlying social problems that made it such a mess in the first place, because “the biggest problem with the DTES is the DTES itself” (and thus, implicitly, anyone who doesn’t see that it’s just about getting on with a clean-up is complicit in perpetuating the misery).

    Mason suggests it’s a question of either/or. It’s not. Absolutely, you need to tackle the bed bugs and the filth and get people off the streets. But do that and you still have a whole bunch of people in crisis. The whole other part of the DTES problem that is not about “DTES itself” remains.

    And whether you’re advocating a clean-up, or tackling underlying problems, or both, it’s not as simple as a mayor just proclaiming “Yeah, clean it up!” or “Make poverty history!”

    Where’s all the $$ going to come from to do this facelift? If we give it to the private sector and they finance the clean-up by selling it off as market price condos, whom are we helping besides the nice developers sponsoring this election? How does all that nice but unaffordable housing help all the people living in those hell-holes or on the street precisely because they can’t afford nice unaffordable places to stay? If we couldn’t persuade the developers to do the non-market housing when they were making a killing in the recent bubble, how are we going to talk them into doing this with markets bottoming out?

    And how is gentrifying the mean streets suddenly going to produce the funding to make drug treatment materialize out of thin air (all this mental health and addiction treatment and anti-poverty treatment that Mason assumes will magically pop up like daisies somewhere else in the city – maybe Kitsilano? – if the DTES is just polished up)? How will gentrification provide the mental health services that are always at the bottom of government priority lists, way after tax cuts, business incentives and more glamorous stuff like hosting the Olympics? Or are we going to just follow Rich Coleman’s lead and stuff them all away in some dark, cost-neutral institution in New West so they will stop scaring all the nice shiny new condo dwellers? And even if we could make DTES magically disappear by polishng Mason’s magic lamp, how will this solve the cradle-to-grave gaps that caused people to end up down there in the first place?

    But hey, if it’s any help, I’d be very happy to contribute to the “normalization” of DTES by paying more taxes or welcoming a treatment facility and more social housing in my neighbourhood. Is Mason? Is Ladner and the rest of the NPA? Or are they going to forget about all those ousted residents once the shiny condos have been built and the former residents have all been cordially escorted to Boundary Road?

  • Dear all:

    I wrote to the organiser of St. Andrew’s Wesley debate but they refused to include me in the debate.

    Please see my answers to the questions and thanks for reading.

    Jeff KUAH
    Candidate for 2008 Vancouver Mayor
    http://www.jeffkuahformayor.com

    1. Would you hire a mental health advocate, considering the city is already facing a 10-per-cent tax hike. Peter: no; Gregor: yes.
    (Jeff KUAH: Yes)

    2. Would you continue Project Civil City? Peter: yes; Gregor: no.
    (Jeff KUAH: No)

    3. The current mix of non-market or SRO housing and market housing is 75/25. Should stay at that level? Gregor: Yes, around there with input from the community; Peter: No, it should change.
    (Jeff KUAH: No, it should be based on needs)

    4. Do you think there should be an annual report to the city on what’s been done about homelessness? Peter: Yes, but don’t we have one already? Gregor: Yes
    (Jeff KUAH: Yes)

    5. The city has a temporary moratorium on demolition or conversion or its stock of low-rise, three-storey rental housing. Do you support extending or modifying that? Gregor: Yes, extend it to ensure there’s no net loss of housing. Peter: No, I don’t like moratoriums. They encourage buildings to become rundown. (Jeff KUAH: No)

    6. The city currently has two supervised-injection sites. Do you support a third one along the model of the Insite facility, which has treatment and transitional housing as well on site? Gregor: Yes. Peter: I’m leaving that up to the health authority to decide. (He was told he had to answer yes or no.) No.
    (Jeff KUAH: No, unless it is legal under Canadian Criminal Code)

    7. There are several SRO buildings in Vancouver that are empty as the owners await redevelopment. Do you support having the city meet with the owners to try to convince them to lease their rooms out temporarily. Gregor: Yes. Peter – Yes.
    (Jeff KUAH: Yes)

    8. The Little Mountain social housing complex currently has over 100 empty units. Do you beleave the city should put pressure on BC Housing to fill those temporarily. Peter: I couldn’t understand his answer. Gregor: Yes. (Jeff KUAH: YES )

    9. Would you support having Vancouver establish a living-wage policy, where it would commit to paying any workers or people employed through contracts a living wage, defined here locally as about $16.50 an hour? Peter: That’s more than councillors make. Gregor: Is that why you’re running for mayor? Jokes aside, Peter: No, because I don’t know what the impact would be on city finances. Gregor: Yes, I’d like to see that.
    (Jeff KUAH: Yes)

    1. What will you do about people sleeping on the streets?
    Peter: “I don’t think the city should jump in and build shelters. Our taxpayers cannot do everything. We need to be strategic and thoughtful.” Gregor: “I don’t think there’s anything strategic or thoughtful about forcing people to sleep outside. We can make space for hundreds and hundreds of people. I would like to see a whole lot more energy and effort put into dealing with the short-term crisis.”
    (Jeff KUAH: I will declare City-wide Emergency on homelessness the first day when I am elected as the Mayor of Vancouver and mobilize the City Disaster Team to help them.)

    2. How will you pay for your homelessness plans? (to Gregor)

    (Jeff KUAH: This is about real human being with flesh and blood: the homeless people are someone’s children or grandchildren or fathers or mothers and no amount of money should come before saving them first. [Try sleeping on the street or in your car, parked in DTES, just for one night and taste it yourself the feeling of homelessness] The money will come from the City Disaster budget.)

    Gregor: “We are in the process of costing the plan but it won’t cost much.” Money now going to Project Civil City can be put in, but I don’t see this adding to the tax burden or requiring us to cut services somewhere else.

    3. Why do you keep saying the NPA has created 3,800 housing units when that’s not true? Monte Paulsen went into quite an analysis of the numbers, saying that the 900 rooms that are existing hotels being fixed up don’t really count, another 900 units were actually started under the previous council, and 1,100 units underway now might never get funded.

    I won’t attempt to reproduce the boxing match that went on, but suffice it to say there was one. Peter argued back that it does make a difference to have a decent hotel room rather than one occupied by cockroaches, mice and rats. He also pointed out that the NPA council has taken a considerable amount of heat while approving new social-housing sites (that’s a fact, especially in Yaletown and Dunbar). He also said he has no question the provincial government will fund all 12 of the new social-housing sites now being planned.

    3. What about creating psychiatric hospital beds?
    (Jeff KUAH: Definitely, I will call George Abbott the next day when I am elected Mayor.)

    Unsurprisingly, neither candidate opposed the idea of doing this and both talked about the necessity of having options like making better use of Riverview. (Peter Ladner, however, accused Coqutilam of causing that project to be stalled — that ought to make Maxine Wilson hopping mad. The mayor of Coquitlam has been fighting to get the province to stick with the original plan, which was park land and facilities for mental health, as it used to be. Coleman has been talking about building a massive market housing complex on the site, which is what Coquitlam is concerned about.)

    4. What’s your vision of how to create affordable housing in the second phase of Southeast False Creek? (Remember, in the first phase, the Olympic village, the new NPA council decided to change the plan to have one-third social housing, one-third low-cost rental and one-third market. Instead, it will be about 30 per cent social housing now and less than 10 per cent low-cost rental. However, they did vote that for the second phase, they would try to stick with the one-thirds model.) In what was a surprise answer to me, Peter said he wasn’t sure that one-third model would work any more for the second phase. “The second phase needs a lot of thought.” Gregor repeated the standard line that the NPA blew the first phase by going for top dollar and a developer who would build luxury condos. I never really got an answer to that question from him.
    (Jeff KUAH: The second phase should all be social housing units. Period)

    Regards,
    Jeff

  • If both Peter Ladner and Gregor Robertson think that prevention and treatment is important, they might consider focusing some effort on the problems with diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions that when not treated cause some to use drugs and alcohol to self treat or self medicate.

    A huge percentage of addicts have a mental health condition called ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the smallest number I’ve seen in peer reviewed clinical journals was that 20-25% of addicts have ADHD, and I’ve seen much larger numbers, even though only 5% of the population has adult ADHD.

    It’s hard to find someone who knows enough about Adult ADHD to diagnose it and treat it, even though it’s one of the most treatable mental health conditions. There was one public clinic in BC who could diagnose ADHD, the BC adult ADHD clinic at Children’s hospital which had 1 year wait list. The clinic asked for more money from the BC liberal govt to deal with the wait list, they said no, then the clinic was closed down (so no embarrassing wait list for the media to criticize) and the patients were abandoned.

    So if Peter and Gregor want to help with prevention and treatment, maybe someone could ask them at the next debate if they will lobby the BC government to reopen the Adult ADHD clinic at another hospital, and also create a full time adult mental health advocate at city hall to show people they take mental health seriously, beyond sound bites and photo ops.

    I blogged about the link between ADHD and addictions and the clinic here
    http://tinyurl.com/6ld7ge

  • Dear Pete Quily:

    I will speak to George Abbott about this subject you wrote here, if elected. May I get your help on my plan to meet all the 9,000 (or 11,000)homeless in Vancouver? If elected, I will declare a City-wide emergency on homelessness on the first day in office. I will need all the help from health professionals to do the job apart from City Disaster Relief Team members.

    Regards,
    Jeff

  • Not running for mayor

    Jeff, what will you if we were struck by a disaster such as an earthquake or a freak snow storm and all the diaster money has been spent on shelters for the homeless? Will the people that actually pay municipal taxes have to await federal aid?

  • Wagamuffin

    Wagatoast, have we met before? I have this feeling…at any rate, in the spirit of civic fun, I do question your appropriation of part of my name! Have you never heard of copyright?? 😉

    Dawn, how could adding working people to the DTES be seen as a bad thing? No one talks of moving people out. Unless of course, it has something to do with idealogy. Yes, graduated treatment, all over the city, is crucial. One of the reasons: to give those who need it a calmer, safer place in which to aid recovery. But if you keep the DTES it as is, nothing will change, no matter how many beds and social servecs (which you have 160 of btw) you provide there. Mixed housing is a part of the solution. Otherwise the DTES remains a parallel universe.

    By the way folks, re InSite: my firefighter friends at Number 2 Hall tell me they attend the clinic 3 or 4 times a day/night: overdoses that they have to take to emerg. If I could swear here, I would.

    Two more opinion pieces on homelessness, and truth and lies in this election come via Allan Garr in this Friday edition of the Vancouver Courier and Jamie Lee Hamilton re: St. Andrew’s debate. You may be surprised at what you read there.

  • A Dave

    Just a note about my earlier comment that the Pantages Theatre redevelopment proposal, which included 130 units of new subsidized housing and restoring this 650 seat jewel of a theatre to its former glory (the oldest surviving Pantages theatre in N. America, built in 1905 and where a young Charlie Chaplin once played):

    On October 20th at an in camera meeting, city council voted against approving this development. The theatre is now back up for sale and will likely be demolished for condos, along with any hope of adding 130 new units of housing and a smaller 99 seat community theatre. The point I made above –that this should be our model for redevelopment of the DTES (cultural/social based business supporting rejuvenation of the area) — is now moot. I have no idea why council decided to quash this development (I’m guessing money), but it will be a huge loss to ALL Vancouverites if the history and heritage of the Pantages Theatre is demolished. It will be a very sad day for our city indeed.

    Frances (or anyone else still reading this thread) do you know anything about this council meeting or why the proposal was rejected?

  • Dear Not running for mayor:

    If my plan to help the homeless people succeeds and ends-up with all of them being housed in proper shelters and cared for. Being a non-partisan Vancouver Mayor, I am sure Premier Campbell and PM Harper will help me to deal with snow storms and earthquakes. If they are not willing to help, which is unlikely, I will use my own connections to ask the World leaders to help Vancouverites.

    Furthermore, the money spent on homelessness is a leaky bucket and a common sense solution would be to permanently solve the homeless issue so that the money can be channeled to other projects.

    Regards,
    Jeff

  • Joe Just Joe

    The reason the Pantages theatre was voted against was not that they were including social housing units, it was because the developer Worthington was using that social housing and the redevelopment of the theatre as a pawn to get an excessive amount of bonus density in the deal.