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Outsiders to check city’s Olympic village deal + What do we want in a mayor?

December 9th, 2008 · 24 Comments

Links here to my Globe story on what’s up for the first week with the new Vision council (Olympic village and homelessness the big priorities), plus my Maureen Dowdish analysis of our desperate search for a datable mayor on my CTV blog

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  • George

    Everyone and their uncle is going on about the homeless. Sure, it sounds responsible and compassionate. However, lets really look at this issue a bit closer. We usually only hear from various vested interests in this matter, never mind the hooligans of the APC. No one really asks the taxpayers what they think. In Canada, there is NO REASON FOR ANYONE TO BE BEGGING. This is not Sudan or Kenya or the Congo. If the vast majority of the people in this province can manage for themselves, even the thousands that work for minimum wage, than that tells you that one can survive in this city. The panhandlers I see downtown every day seem perfectly capable of doing some work. Yet they sit across from the 7/11 or Tim Hortons watching the immigrants who work the night shift. They watch the construction workers going to their job at the ShangriLa every day, including labourers imported from Mexico.

    What kind of message are we sending to those people when we provide housing for those who don’t do anything for themselves? What are the requirements we taxpayers set for those who will be given some form of housing?

  • LP

    The reality is that Vision set goals they will never achieve – all to get elected. Que’suprise!

    As I just wrote on Francis’ CTV blog, Gregor and Vision have promised citizens of Vancouver a rose garden, and hope that when daisies come up in the spring, we’ll be okay with that.

    The problem of homelessness is not one that can be solved alone by the city, there are just too many issues wrapped in why people ‘are’ to begin with.

    George, you’re a bit of a hard ass. I like that, but I respectfully disagree with you. Some of those people on the street, yes, need a good kick in the ass. Perhaps even a bus ticket home since many of what seem to be the abled-bodied ones, sound like they are from Quebec.

    Many homeless have mental health issues and those people do need our help though. That isn’t so easy. I know people with these issues and helping them is sometimes almost impossible.

    The real issue here is that homelessness is a much bigger issue than the city can handle on it’s own. Gregor and his Vision team have promised a lot and at most will ever only make a dent.

    If the NDP hasn’t summoned their leader-in-waiting by 2011, he’ll be asking Vancouvites for three more years because he hasn’t finished what he started.

    Sound familiar……

  • Stephanie

    Just because you think someone appears perfectly capable of working doesn’t mean that they are. People on the streets panhandling often suffer from psychiatric disabilities that aren’t visible to people who don’t know them well. Addictions often complicate the matter. And becoming poor and street-involved increases the likelihood of becoming addicted and/or having the symptoms of mental illness worsen remarkably.

    We didn’t get a sudden upswing in homelessness because people all of a sudden decided they wanted to live on the street. A combination of a tight housing market, government withdrawal from social housing programs, massive cuts to welfare, and an offloading of mental health services made life precarious for many vulnerable people. A lot of them ended up with nowhere to go but the street.

    It is infurating that government does not see addiction and mental health services as a first priority for everyone, not just the street-involved. Try getting a therapist in this province, or a detox bed, addictions counselor or rehab. The interventions that can help someone remain healthy so they can keep a job or keep their housing, or help them out of trouble once crisis hits, simply aren’t available.

    We helped to create this mess. We elected politicians who, as a matter of public policy, decided that it was acceptable for poor, sick and vulnerable people to be abandoned in this way. And I believe it’s our responsibility as citizens to help to fix it.

  • Coldwater

    Wow, George, what a compassionate attitude! It is that kind of thinking that closed down Riverview in the first place and put these people on the street. I guess no one in your immediate circle has ever been struck with a mental health or addiction issue. Glad to know there are pockets of utopia even here in Vancouver

  • George

    Coldwater,

    For your info, I know very well what its like to come from bad circumstances. My mother survived Auschwitz, all of her extended family did not. I grew up in a series of 4 foster homes by the time I was 14.

    About a year ago I was at the Tim Hortons on Pender. A few people were having a business meeting. One of the participants did not have arms, so he held the papers with his feet. Here is a guy who could legitimately claim to be handicapped, yet he did what he had to do to take care of himself.

    Why is it that we rarely see immigrant panhandlers? Its that they understand that they have to work and work hard to take care of themselves and their families. I am sure that many of them went through horrific things in their countries of origin. Yet, the ones that are born here need to be housed and clothed and fed. Sure, there are certainly those who have been badly abused as kids and are damaged goods. I as a taxpayer and human being would be more than happy to help them. We make it too easy for panhandlers to survive in the streets. If they could not survive that way, you can be sure they would seek alternatives.

    Finally, I am not saying we should not help them. We need to however have goals and responsibilities tied to this help.

  • julia

    Stephanie has created a very interesting list of what is missing in our society – no of which is controlled by municipal governments! While I agree we have done a terrible job of making provisions for those who need help, I can’t help but wonder why it is so many of our street people come from somewhere else. Why is that? Perhaps it is easier to live on the street here, perhaps there is more services here, perhaps we are more tolerant?

    It is astonishing when you add up all the dollars poured into our most vulnerable through govenment and NPO agencies and the problem never seems to improve. We are talking millions of dollars. Without trying to be cynical, I wonder if the poverty industry really wants a solution – lots of folks would be looking for work if there were no homeless!

  • Stephanie

    The problem isn’t the “poverty industry”. The problem is that our governments have chosen an approach to the provision of health care and social services that is spectacularly wasteful and inefficient – as my grandmother would have said, “penny wise, pound foolish”.

    We spend obscene amounts of money on emergency room beds for the frail elderly because we do not fund enough long-term care and assisted living. We spend money on drug-related illness instead of spending on prevention and treatment (at least we fund harm-reduction). We spend money on outreach workers and shelters instead of on permanent housing or income supports that would help prevent people (injured, ill, disabled, or just poor) from becoming homeless.

    All of these approaches have much worse health and social outcomes *and* they cost the government more money.

    And now we have a street homelessness crisis, and the government is trying to close the barn door after the horse is out. It’s lunacy. This did not need to happen. It was allowed to happen. They knew perfectly well what the outcome would be, and they went ahead anyhow – because in cutting social supports (housing, income, etc.) creates a mobile, desperate, low-wage workforce for the business cronies our government is beholden to.

    As for why street people come here from other places: lots of people come to BC from other places. Why would street people be any different? The simple fact that one is less likely to die of exposure in the winter would be motivation enough, I think.

  • Corey

    Well to a certain extent I am with George.

    If you take your line of thinking Stephanie, then Vancouver must have a MUCH higher percentage of mentally ill people compared to other cities?

    Something in the water maybe.

  • Otis Krayola

    Well, to a great extent, I am with Stephanie.

    For every single person who (out of perversity, I guess) elects to sleep on cardboard in front of a Tim Hortons (and then beg there all day) there are a hundred who could work inside, if they had a place to sleep safely. And hang their clothes. And wash.

    We all have to get over the notion that homelessness is a lifestyle choice.

  • Corey

    Homelessness may not be a lifestyle choice, but isn’t it the result of one? Drugs of course.

    If you’re choosing to pay money for drugs, it’s tough to come up with rent.

  • Wagamuffin

    This is a good thread.

    I would like someone to talk to the issue of someone who is newly homeless in Vancouver—that is, when someone first hits the first social service agency for the very first time.

    How do we know if they are new to the system?
    What mechanisms do we have/not have to keep them from becoming entrenched in the system?
    How do we provide emergency service, THEN track them and not let them get caught up in a seemingly vicious cycle?

    I saw a demonstration outside the Dominion Hotel in Gastown during the civic election. Carnegie Centre and Jean Swanson and others and they were talking to the issue of the government getting its hands on some of the empty hotels.

    The speakers were eloquent and organized. Not blaming, but challenging. One very dignified native man was especially powerful.

    I can’t say that they had a formula on how to do any of this, or that it would be possible without a lot of court time or that I would agree it’s a good idea to take private property in any other way than through negotiations with a landlord. It was a general idea, food for thought.

    But what struck me the most: one or two women, who had come to watch and who were clearly high, were keening at the end, “Where are our families? Please tell them we need them”. That’s what killed me.

    They weren’t asking for the city or any other level of government to do something for them . They weren’t about “the kindness of strangers”. They wanted their families, somehow.

    I can imagine two solitudes here, too. Desperate, mentally ill or addicted or homeless people. On the other side, families who are too worn down from dealing with them, hearing again and again that they will change, then being disappointed again and again. Finally, for their own sanity, giving up.

    This to me this is the tragedy. I understand that some people come from dysfunctional homes—and some do not. Is family re-unification something that is on the agenda? Maybe some of the homeless would really like that second (or third or fourth) chance with families, rather than be put into SRO’s and the like. It is still warehousing people with the same sets of problems. Where is the opportunity for normalcy? And yes, there is such a thing. It doesn’t exist in large measure in what is happening right now on the DTES.

    I would be interested to know if we put money into that kind of an endeavour?. Does anyone know?

    Or, do we just accept that the homeless are just statistics and process them through to ???? Where are the teams of service folk who work TOGETHER to find each person the best solution?

    Finally, I’d like to caution everyone (and I do this onlybecause I know I can be an instigator): Please do not make too many assumptions about your fellow posters when it comes to this subject. We all have our own experiences, our own sorrows in life. I wish the solutions for this could be so black and white. There are many shades of grey— possibly because we seem to be unable to act at all, or because we become entrenched in thinking about these problems in one way or another.

    There is no one solution. To maintain the status quo is unacceptable. To think that if we just build enough housing, all the other associated problems will be cured, is silly. If we build it, they will come—and keep on coming.

    We need to balance our ability to provide housing with treatment and family response.

  • In her G&M story, FABula wrote:

    “The new councillors are not going to settle just for an explanation from staff about what’s going on.

    “We’re going to bring people in to look at the books,” one source said.”

    If this is, indeed, the case (ie. not just political grandstanding), does it not strongly suggest that something really does need to be done about the relationship between the new council and the old management?

    .

  • Rolf Auer

    God, I am SO tired of people referring to “the poverty industry” or that addiction is “a lifestyle choice.” If it weren’t for the well-intentioned people in “the poverty industry,” where would the disadvantaged actually be now? I’ll tell you where: at the mercy of Scrooge-types. And as for addiction being “a lifestyle choice,” the greatest experts of our time on addiction have equated it with “social condition.” Why aren’t these messages getting across? Why do I constantly encounter messages from people seemingly willfully ignorant of these issues? As long as these types of thinking persist, the harder it will be for conditions to improve for the disadvantaged.

  • George

    Rolf, addiction for the most part IS a lifestyle choice. If 99% of people are not addicted to drugs and I am sure that many of them have had problems in their lives, then the small percentage of the society at large that takes drugs must be by choice. As for Scrooge types, thats a misnomer as well. You won’t get any funding at all if not for those of us who pay taxes and in particular property purchase tax, property taxes etc. So, if I was someone in the “Poverty Industry” who wanted to help those in need, I would want to make a good case to those so-called Scrooges as to why they should be paying and what results they can expect.

  • That was a good post, Wagamuffin. I worked in SROs during the federal election and I was appalled at the conditions. They can’t be good places to try to rehabilitate oneself, nor to transition from being homeless to decent, stable housing.

    George, your first sentence is slightly contradictory. Do you mean drug use is a lifestyle choice? Because last time I checked, addiction to anything wasn’t a choice, it was, well, an addiction. One can choose to try and overcome an addiction, but this is harder for some than others. And personal circumstances affect how hard or easy it may be. In times of stress, quitting smoking (or heroin or crack) would mostly likely be extremely difficult. Living on the street is, I imagine, very stressful.

    So, yes, there may be or may have been some choice involved, but let’s not just say “they choose to be there, addicted to drugs” and be done with it.

  • Rolf Auer

    Sorry, George, nothing you’ve written has changed my mind.

  • Helesia Luke

    The economic argument against homelessness is one strategy that is making a difference in some US jurisdictions. In BC there is a body of research that proves the point repeatedly: it is far less expensive to house people – all people – than to let them rotate through medical, policing and justice systems.

    If anyone is interested, I highly recommend an article by Malcolm Gladwell called: “Million Dollar Murray” you can find it at http://www.stophomelessness.ca specifically http://stophomelessness.ca/learn-more/articles/

    In addition, the Housing First approach is working as well. What many people do not realize is that accessing most emergency shelters requires sobriety. There is much to be said about removing the barriers to getting and keeping housing.

    Helesia Luke
    Co-ordinator of Homelessness Action Week.

  • urb antig

    And what, exactly, would ‘identify’ an immigrant who was homeless? Seeing as I know two or three…

    Second, the poverty industry, just like the Fraser Institute, sees the world through a particular set of beliefs, ideologies, and, if you want, facts.

    Again, I know at least one poverty worker whose kids get private horseback riding lessons. And piano, and god-knows what else. But that person has also spent years in the trenches.

    Again, I don’t hear anyone, no one, asking why the Hispanic drug dealers are just deported. No rights. OUT. If it is illegal for addicts to steal, or prostitute (not quite true, their not allowed to ‘communicate for the purpose’) themselves, why does it not seem to be illegal for the dealers, several of whom have been on Hastings St. for a decade, to get put on a plane, and sent?

    And that’s enough for now!

  • Jackie

    Many people choose to sleep outside because it’s safer there than in the SROs and some shelters, where you can get beaten up, raped, or have your stuff stolen while you sleep. But homelessness is not a lifestyle choice. I don’t think it a choice for the man who pans near my apartment to be back at his regular spot asking for change, badly bruised and freezing, after getting hit by a car on the weekend.

    People start using drugs for a number of reasons. People do not have homes for a number of reasons. It’s never black and white. I’ve known young people who use meth or crack to stay awake because they feel like it’s the only way they can get through the multiple jobs they held to afford their housing. A classmate of mine in university slept in his van in the parking lot of a church near campus every night.

    Life is complicated, and, like everything else, there is no perfect answer for solving homelessness. But we can’t afford to stop looking for solutions.

  • George

    Jackie, you are right, its complicated. All I suggest is to keep in mind that the old adage of “Give a man a fish, and you have fed him. Teach a man to fish and you have helped him for life” Any solution that involves the taxpayers funding has to also include strict guidelines, responsibilities and milestones for those that are being housed.

    I am a strong believer in helping people who help themselves, aid to single working mothers for example. My sister brought up three kids on her own with no money. She worked super hard, and there were many days when there was no food in the house. Two of the kids finished University with Honours and all of them are productive members of society.

  • LP

    As I stated above, I like George’s hard ass style, and I do somewhat agree with a point made (his, or someone Else’s) above about ‘choices’.

    Each and every day, every single one of us makes choices. At some point, some of these people have chosen to take drugs. This has led them down a terrible path, one which they obviously have trouble returning from.

    It was still a choice – they made at some point. They may not have chosen to be homeless, or drug addicted, etc…but they did choose to take the drugs at some earlier point.

    We all make choices – some of us for whatever reason have trouble making ones that lead in a positive direction.

    It’s also not a simple thing to help those break the cycle of making negative ones.

  • LP

    Oh, and as for the poverty industry…

    those concerned about their demise…

    you know when that ‘agent of change’, Gregor Robertson and his Vision team solve and end it [note sarcasm]….

    will just move on to their cause du’jour ….

  • Stephanie

    Corey wrote: “Homelessness may not be a lifestyle choice, but isn’t it the result of one?”

    No. Homelessness is, first and foremost, the result of a lack of affordable housing. Although addiction and mental illness are complicating factors in the lives of some people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, not everyone who is homeless is mentally ill or addicted. Once they become homeless, however, the risk of addiction or decompensation increases dramatically – in other words, what we often understand to be cause (addiction) and effect (homelessness) are often reversed.

    While it’s true that we need interventions to be available for people struggling with mental illness and addiction, whether they have a home or not, I also think that the current focus on the “medicalization” of homelessness is a distraction from its primary causes: a shortage of affordable rental housing and an increase in poverty caused by job insecurity, downward pressure on wages, and cuts to social benefits. If we persist in looking a homelessness as primarily a medical issue we are missing the point.

    We have seen a change in the homeless population in Vancouver over the past while. People who previously would have had a place to live no longer do because they cannot access income assistance, or they cannot afford a place to live on their low-wage job. These aren’t people who need supportive housing – they just need an apartment, and they can’t get one because of the shortage of rental housing stock. One of the reasons we see so many people on the street is because low-wage workers are moving into housing that formerly housed at-risk tenants – think of all the low-wage workers living in converted SROs in Vancouver – and the former residents are driven to the street.

    The number of homeless employed people is growing – in the United States, a minimum wage job provides too little income to pay for a one-bedroom apartment in *any* major city, and Canada is moving in that direction. And the people most at risk are single parent families – in the current housing market, the outcome for George’s sister’s family might have been very different.

    While we need a strategy that will do something about street homelessness right now, the only way to prevent homelessness is to develop a strategy with market interventions that address housing needs at all levels: affordable purchases, middle-income rentals, mixed-income cooperatives, and deep core social or supportive housing.

    I live in a mixed-income housing cooperative, by the way. Many of our members are very poor – receiving disability benefits, or members of low-wage working families. They all contribute to the co-op and the community in their own ways, and they don’t need someone with a clipboard and a set of, as George put it “strict guidelines, responsibilities and milestones for those that are being housed” to prove their worth. They aren’t objects of some transaction, “being housed” – they live here, in their own homes. They are my neighbours.

  • Rolf Auer

    Sorry, LP, there isn’t anything that you have written either that makes me change my mind.