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Vancouver Police outline a new plan for the Downtown Eastside

February 5th, 2009 · 21 Comments

I don’t know what is going on over at the VPD, but, under new Chief Jim Chu, the department has turned into a more active social-planning agency than the city’s social-planning department. Last year, the police issued a substantive report that documented how much time the police spend dealing with mental illness.

Shortly after, Premier Gordon Campbell announced the opening of the 100-bed facility out in Burnaby for the city/province’s most challenging cases of people who are mentally ill, drug addicted, homeless and/or sick.

Now they’ve come out with their prescription for fixing the Downtown Eastside, which essentially boils down to creating a special task force headed by a kind of czar to tackle the neighbourhood’s problems. They say one of the issues is that no one agency has oversight over trying to make life better.

You can read their full report here.

Let’s see how quickly the province moves on this one. It would be interesting to see if that happens. As you all will recall, the city tried to create an agency to focus on fixing the Downtown Eastside. Negotiated under previous mayor Philip Owen, the Vancouver Agreement was supposed to target the neighbourhood with programs to improve the quality of life, reduce crime, and encourage economic activity.

It had a hard enough time keeping the three contributing governments co-ordinated on what to do and eventually foundered when the Conservatives were elected federally, because they were definitely not that into supporting the Liberal-supported program.

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  • A. Baird

    “a special task force headed by a kind of czar to tackle the neighbourhood’s problems”

    David Eby?

  • Paul

    “a special task force headed by a kind of czar to tackle the neighbourhood’s problems”

    Geoff Plant.

  • Jane

    Well it certainly won’t be George Puil! hahaha

  • SV

    Sam Sullivan

    ah ha ha

  • not running for mayor

    Civil City Version 2.1?

  • urb anwriter

    Isn’t David Eby the person that argued in court that Carnegie had to allow a broad array of people, some of whom might be considered ‘under the influence,’ thereby turning the inside of Carnegie into the outside? And isn’t he the person who has put their house in Strathcona up for rent: just not to the welfare class – for whom he so often claims to represent – and denying a space for 5 or 6 in the process?

    And, perhaps, the endless organizations (all of whom do good work) with thousands of part-time and temporary staff, will all want to be represented before the czar. And all of whom depend on the community remaining as it is, stuck in amber.

    We could, plain and simply, withdraw (on six months notice) from the treaty that insists that ‘drugs are illegal,’ thereby forcing the price down, the purity up, the need to break in to cars and apartments down, and increase the ease of treatment because first-responders might actually have some idea not only what you thought you took – but what you did take – seeing as it is often the ‘cut’ that is as harmful as the drug.

    Or, perhaps, we could, as a society, demand that those capable (and having lived and worked in the community, in many senses of the word, many of the residents are FAR more capable than their keepers would allow) take some responsibility for their actions. And that includes those middle-class university students so often heaving in the alleys behind the bars they frequent. And you’ll notice there are no bars in Kerrisdale, or West Point Grey, or Shaughnessy that allow that kind of drunken behaviour.

    And isn’t it Jim Chu’s employees that now get an escort from 312 Main to the parking garage on Cordova/Columbia, return? But it also seems to me that the same dealers on the street that were there, now 8 years ago, are still there. Seems we’re protecting their jobs and their profits while providing endless programs preparing people with no teeth to write resumes…

  • Wagamuffin


  • SV

    urban writer-please feel free to criticize Mr. Eby for his actions with Pivot/Vision/BCCLU.
    As for “his” house though you might want to parrot someone else besides Jamie Lee Hamiltion, seeing as neither of you really knows the ins and outs of Mr. Eby’s personal situation. And “denying” space to 5 or 6? Are you kidding?

  • the following is the text of a letter I sent the Vancouver Sun upon reading this story:

    I would like to applaud and strongly endorse Police Chief Jim Chu’s call for
    a new agency to oversee the activities of the three levels of government and
    myriad of social service agencies operating in the Downtown Eastside. As a
    result of my volunteer activities in the community, I too have concluded
    that notwithstanding a lot of good intentions, there has to be an umbrella
    entity to coordinate activities.

    My personal recommendation is the creation of a new Community Trust, modeled
    somewhat on US inner-city examples, with a Board of Directors representing
    the three levels of government, key community organizations, the business
    community, and ‘outside professionals’. It would have an Executive Director
    who would effectively become a ‘benevolent czar’ directing the participating
    governments and other organizations to coordinate and realize their

    While some people active in the community may question the need for this
    approach, I have seen too much duplication of activities by very well
    meaning organizations, without tangible results. I therefore hope there will
    be a loud and collective support for the Police Chief’s proposition and
    quick action to make this happen. After all, we are all trying to improve
    the lives of those in the community.

  • Jeannette M

    I agree with SV- critique Mr Eby’s professional work all you want – but to hold some sort of grudge against him in public forums because he is making use of an investment he has worked to obtain it absurd. To suggest that he is in any way hypocritical for renting out his property to whomever he pleases (as is his right) rather than turn it into some sort of rooming house is crazy.

    It goes to show how LITTLE people have to actually critique him for, when all they can do is stand around and call him opportunist and complain about his modest rental property.

  • Taxpayer

    I’m pleased to see Jeannette’s comments regarding Mr. Eby’s right to manage his property as he wishes, and I agree. I hope this message can also get through to the members of City Council who suggest that vacant condo units should be required to be rented to help address shortages of rental housing. It would seem that if a property owner wishes to keep their condo, house, or guest bedroom vacant, that should be their choice.

  • T W

    The virtue of Michael Geller’s suggestion is that the operation of the Community Trust would be, in theory, open, transparent and accountable.

    The same cannot be said about some of the groups operating in the the Downtown Eastside.

    Michael’s suggestion has my vote.

  • Jer

    As a long term resident of the neighbourhood, I found the VPD’s report to be very thoughtful and well-written. I just hope it goes beyond paper to meaningful results.

    As to the suggestions for Dave Eby as DTES czar: I suggest that Eby is the wrong man for the job.

    I concur that he is an opportunist – but not for first trying to flip, then rent out his Strathcona home. Eby was drawn to this city in no small part by the opportunities to make his name in the DTES. Consider that he’s been in this city for a scant five years and worked exclusively in the DTES poverty industry – and then parlayed that exposure into a run at council and a seat at the mayor’s table.

    Citing civil liberties, Eby recently chafed at suggestions that the homeless be forced indoors during extreme cold weather. I fail to see how that kind of dogmatism will help alleviate some of the serious issues down here like homelessness, mental illness (vis a vis the Mental Health Act), addiction and prostitution.

    Working towards bettering the DTES requires some fresh thinking – not more of the same. I think if the last twenty years and this VPD report have taught us anything, it’s that allowing the poverty industry to call the shots down here has only resulted in a ghetto with lots of services.

  • tommi

    Eby is a good guy, but, why in the world did he spend nearly $15,000 just to lose a nomination for Vision?? For the same money, he could have run as an actual candidate with the NPA, with the same result: Lost.

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  • LP

    “Citing civil liberties, Eby recently chafed at suggestions that the homeless be forced indoors during extreme cold weather. I fail to see how that kind of dogmatism will help alleviate some of the serious issues down here…”


    Are you suggesting that people who have not been deemed a threat to society or themselves, when asked if they’d like to go to a shelter, should be forced to go?

    That was a bullshit and asinine suggestion by the mayor AND he should have been hung to rot over hot charcoal for it.

    F*ck the civil liberties, no one, especially the police, should be allowed to force anyone who has not been previously diagnosed with a mental illness, and is found to be off their medication into a shelter or any other location for that matter.

    That would really do a lot for the lack of trust issues these people already have. Gee, you must have some other wonderful suggestions on how to build trust with people that already lack it from the rest of society.

    If you’d like to live in a country like that I recommend you move to China, or maybe Russia where human rights are so well respected…hack, cough, spit…

    If you don’t like Eby, that’s one thing but find something else.

    To suggest ANYONE should have the right to take away someone’s freedom, because they believe they know better is flat out wrong, and rightly criminal.

  • tommi

    I do agree with Jer’s assertion that the Poverty industry is calling all the shots in the DTES, and is why we still have a festering ghetto there. They’ve created a “Poverty Industrial Complex” here. That’s how they keep making money, and why it costs $1.5 million to provide a cold floor in a rundown building for 3 months. Someone profits from that, and it isn’t the City.

    It will only continue to get worse unless something fairly drastic is done, but, that will never happen here because too many people think drugged out zombies have an inalienable right to roam our streets while shooting up, shitting on our doorsteps and committing crimes. Those of us who live and work here are expected to tolerate this Canadian Calcutta.

    Robertson won’t be able to do what’s truly needed there because he’s surrounded himself with way too many bleeding hearts who believe we should enable these people to keep living this way. Instead of tearing down the ghetto, they simply want to manage and maintain it. As a result, the DTES will only get worse over the next 3 years, not better.

  • Jer


    “Are you suggesting that people who have not been deemed a threat to society or themselves, when asked if they’d like to go to a shelter, should be forced to go?”

    Perhaps you missed it, but we’ve had two people burn themselves to death trying to keep warm in recent years (who knows how may have gotten sick / died as a result of exposure) – I think that qualifies as “a threat to themselves”

    Your concern about ‘building trust with people who lack it from the rest of society’ is quite ironic. My impression is that it’s precisely that preoccupation that has landed us in this situation in the first place.

    Presumably, those people ‘lacking trust from the rest of society’ would be the addicts, the criminals, the homeless and the mentally ill. Reaching out to those people is all well and good, but what about the rest the people? The people in recovery, the people struggling with poverty, the thousands of families living down here, the Chinese, the seniors…

    I can assure you that not even the majority of residents down here are insane, addicted or homeless.

  • urb anwriter

    My thanks, no sarcasm intended, on SV’s (because they were the first) comments with respect to my comments on Mr. Eby’s property.

    But you might note that Mr. Eby is also one to critique the gentrification of the area. That means he is telling other people what they should do with the property they worked hard for.

    Having lived, and worked here, for far too long I’m a little exasperated when I walk to work and my entertainment is counting the number cars that have been broken into – the proof is there on the ground – by people that ‘we’ don’t have any expectation of holding accountable.

    Not being sure how many readers of FB’s blog have had hookers turning tricks in the hallways of their homes, or the months and months of struggle entailed in getting drug dealers evicted from their homes, or having their front porch turned into a urinal or vomitorium for amateur drunks from UBC, I would suggest that you give it a try.

    After trying it for a while you might, like I, suffer from a horribly rent compassion for some, and an utter sense of frustration.


    Postscript: Jer, I’ve been wailing on the subject of the “people…recovery… poor…” for years.

  • David Eby is definitely not the person I had in mind as the Executive Director. But he might be on the board. No, the ideal candidate would be someone who can appeal to a broad segment of people…a Mike Harcourt type (not Mike, he’s having too much fun doing other things); someone who can appeal to Wendy Pederson and Milton Wong and Gregor Robertson and Bob Rennie and Jim Green and Mike Magee and Shayne Ramsay and Shayne Simpson and Libby Davies and Ray Spaxman and ….

    I always thought Larry Beasley would be a good candidate! But I’m sure you can all think of others!

    My other suggestion is that we should have a broad based community charrette to start a new planning process in the community. Maybe this could help us assess the feasibility of an umbrella organization and a potential ‘czar’.

  • Not running for mayor

    I would imagine Larry is busy with work in Abu Dhabi and other cities across the world. I agree he would be a suitable candidate but I suspect his invovlement in the planning dept will raise questions of gentrfication among certian groups.
    I think Jim Green himself would be a acceptable to most sides. Philip Owen might be a good candidate as well if he were interested.