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Vision homelessness efforts need to be solid

December 12th, 2008 · 10 Comments

My last CTV blog post looked at the debate over whether homelessness is worth trying to tackle (some people feel like it’s too big a job for the city) and also a warning about scrambling together homeless shelters too quickly.

As people in the Downtown Eastside know too well, those who have been sleeping on the streets are often the most troubled. So there’s often a lot more to housing them, even in shelters, than just opening the doors. Those who live in the Gastown area will remember the difficulties caused after the COPE council, in another quick move to house the homeless shortly after being elected in 2002, put 200 people who had been squatting around Woodward’s into the Stanley New Fountain and left it to the Portland Hotel Society to run.

With few resources and an extremely challenging group to deal with, the Stanley turned into a nightmare for all concerned. There were police calls, neighbourhood disruptions, and burned-out staff trying to do too much with too little.

The situation finally eased after a couple of years when the Portland got more staffing and resources for the building. The Portland, which manages several hotels in the area, was also able to cope with the situation better than some because it could deploy staff over to the Stanley from other buildings, if there was a real emergency, and its staff had also had years of experience in dealing with some of the Downtown Eastside’s most difficult residents.

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  • Stephanie

    The Stanley is much calmer than it used to be. But the current policing strategy appears to involve flushing people out of the places they used to hide, keeping them on the move. Add to that the the closure of the building that the Irish Heather was in, and Blood Alley has turned into a construction dead zone. The result: a lot more trouble, including dealers re-establishing themselves around the Stanley. It’s taken me a long time to come to this conclusion, but I think the Stanley has to go. The location is too sheltered to allow for safety or adequate policing.

    In a related matter, there was a piece on the CBC about people who had been moved from tent squats to the Gastown Hotel, which is now being staffed by Atira. Apparently conditions are not good. Residents complain that they have to sign in and out, and that they feel like they’re being incarcerated. The problem is that keeping control of the door is the only way to stop dealers from taking over the units.

    One thing that needs to be looked at is how to respect the dignity and autonomy of vulnerable residents without leaving their buildings open to predators. It’s a difficult problem and nobody’s really been able to come up with a workable solution as of yet. If buildings are locked down then the street drug culture continues to thrive, but if they aren’t locked down then the buildings can become unsafe.

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  • Larry Campbell

    If Gregor Robertson thinks that letting the homeless sleep on a cold, stone floor of a church basement will solve homelessness, then his lofty promises will be a cruel joke to those in need.

    What’s needed are treatment services for mental health disorders and alcohol addiction.

  • Disappointed

    Re this issue and the gist of your CTV blog post:

    Disappointed that we never heard these obvious conclusion when all the election promises were being made.

    The narrow vision and lofty promises made by Candidate Robertson and Vision were left completely unchecked by yourself and the rest of the media throughout the campaign. I have not commented on this before, but while your coverage of the civic election was thorough, it was also rather shallow when it came to questioning whether all this was possible. For the very first time, I found my self questioning your objectivity. It was really disappointing.

    As for eliminating homelessness: I’m all for setting lofty goals, but a real goal is actually achievable. This was always anything but.

    I’m not saying that the NPA were doing a fabulous job, but for Robertson to get elected on a promise that he’s going to save the world is duplicitous. You knew that, but said nothing.

  • Dawn Steele

    …let’s all hope, therefore, that all the high-priced help in Ottawa and Victoria will stop talking and actually do something about delivering from their end the necessary resources to provide addiction treatment, mental health services, etc.

  • fbula

    Dear Disappointed,

    Well, that’s rather harsh.

    I did note during the campaign several times that the Vision claims that the NPA had done nothing about homelessness were misleading.

    You must have also missed all the debates where Robertson was grilled ad nauseum on the topic and was frequently criticized for providing vague answers.

    As to my assessments of what their plans were — well, since even they didn’t know quite what they were going to do, hard for me to critique. And the first week isn’t even over yet, so, no, I won’t be jumping in to condemn them for failing just quite yet. Maybe I’ll wait until week two.

    My points in my blog were, to repeat:

    1. I do think that cities have the capacity to tackle homelessness and, furthermore, they don’t have much of a choice since no one else is doing it.

    2. Vision’s first-week effort made me a little uneasy because of how quickly they scrambled it together.

    Does that mean I think all of their efforts are similarly doomed and I should just say so now? I have no idea what they’re going to come up with. It might be good. It might be poor. Why don’t we wait and see. At least for a week.

  • Independent Mind

    Wow I guess we can now look forward to Larry Campbell’s musings on all things civic.

    I wonder where he finds the time with the rigorous schedule of the Senate.

  • Wagamuffin

    As I mentioned in a previous post, and I am pretty sure we an all agree on this point: housing alone will not do the job. And let’s throw in the mix of treatment, supervision and family reunification that the other municipalities in Metro have a job to do too

    According to a column by Pete McMartin a few days ago, Burnaby does not have one shelter bed, while Vancouver povides over 1,100. Other jurisdictions are equally at fault here.

    I think that Metro Vancouver Mayor’s Council, headed by Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts (the province fastes growin city with only 89 beds) better get working together on this…

  • Wagamuffin

    Sorry about the spelling errors, all. It’s been a long week.

  • Dawn Steele

    I find Vancouver politics mind boggling, really…

    A new Council written off as frauds and failures four days post-inauguration, mass hysteria about Commies taking over City Hall (are these people for real or are we experiencing some weird wormhole linking us to McCarthy-era America?), and the Mayor ridiculed for taking on the #1 issue that he campaigned on.

    Shelter beds on a church floor won’t solve homelessness. Maybe one or two people won’t freeze to death this winter and others may be spared some misery. But I see this as a largely symbolic start to show everyone they mean business.

    A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Let’s wait until the first milestone before deciding we’re lost.