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Yaletown residents go to war against winter homelessness shelter and also the “huge self-perpetuating social service industry”

December 13th, 2012 · 85 Comments

Just to give a flavour of what is happening out on the battleground, as Yaletown residents ramp up resistance to the winter shelter that has been opened in their neighbourhood — a memo from the inside, with recommended strategies to fight the war.
For those unfamiliar with the shelter situation: The province funds a number of permanent shelters throughout the region. As well, because of pressure from Vancouver council, it has also agreed to open temporary winter shelters the last four years. (Normally, shelters were only opening on the worst nights of the winter, staffed by volunteers, and with beds available only at night — no hanging out during the day.)
There are three other shelters operating as of yesterday: one on East 5th and Ontario, as this note makes mention of, another near Commercial, which I haven’t heard any comments on, and a third on Richards, also in Yaletown.
All of the locations this year are different from previous years. Last year, the Mount Pleasant shelter was somewhere near Mount St. Joseph Hospital, and there were two others in the Granville area. The year before, there was a shelter in Kitsilano, one in Mount Pleasant at the corner of Fraser and Broadway, one near Stanley Park, and one in the Granville area.
And now, to the memo.
Please tune into CKNW AM 980 this morning (Wednesday), at 8:45 a.m.. Sharon will be representing our group on the Bill Good Show, regarding the heat shelter.  
It is important that some of our group be listening, and willing to call in with comment, because we have found the calls that come in traditionally are very uneducated, still accusing us of  NIMBY even after our speaking to the saturation of social services in the area, and naïve people buying the city’s line that the shelter will not affect the area, and only be temporary, which we suspect is not true. We need some educated calls to reinforce our message.
Those of you unable to listen the show at that time, can check out the CKNW news vault on the web to hear it online.
As is obvious, our approach to the situation with the shelter changes with its opening, to one of wait and see, and report every incident that might impact the area and the park. Very often it is quiet outside the building, which is good news. It is all a matter of timing whether or not you experience outfall, as a few people have been upset by noise and loitering. Now it is up to everyone to scrutinize, and report any misbehavior at 911 for an incident report, and 311 to the city.
It would be good to drop in to say hello, and remind the workers that the neighbours are counting on them to take care of the block and the park. They evidently have a budget to hire their tenants to do the sweep work. We have had a disturbing letter come in from a resident of Space who could not get their attention to diffuse a scary situation at his entrance to the Space side gate. That points out why we must make sure the workers are responsive to their responsibilities outside the shelter, as we have been promised they would be by RainCity.
A call to 911 is the suggested response to trouble (the police told us to use it) It will register any complaint you might have, and will allow the police to take care of any problem, so there is no discomfort or risk to yourself.  We repeat: CALL 911 FOR ANY INFRACTION, NO MATTER HOW MINOR. IF YOU SEE LOITERING ON THE WALLS OR DOORWAYS OF ADJOINING BUILDINGS, OR SMOKING WITHIN 6 METERS OF THE DOORWAY, OR IF YOU EXPERIENCE ANY DISRESPECT FROM ANY SHELTER CLIENT THAT MAKES YOU FEEL UNSAFE, CALL.

What we have accomplished by our intense resistance to the location of the 1210 Seymour shelter:

A. WE have torn off the sheep’s clothing of the Vision Council, and exposed the undemocratic process in the creation of these shelters. Since 2008, everyone has experienced the same thing: Building in secret, then just before the shelter opens neighbours are told,  Emergency…. only spot we could find….. temporary……etc.
We have not received the city’s supposed reports regarding where the homeless are situated which we requested. We know there are homeless in Vancouver, but doubt the volume is such in our particular area, to justify that two of the four shelters in the City of Vancouver are within five blocks of each other in New Yaletown.
We did not see the depth and breadth of their supposed intensive search for location. Did they restrict themselves to edge of Yaletown, because the Business community did not want the shelters on a commercial street? (Actually a better location than residential, and where the homeless were most likely spending their time anyway.) We were told agents are sent out, and it is fair to assume that they returned delighted when they found an owner willing to rent to them, and looked no further.
B. The issue of misrepresentation, or spin put on data In last week’s Province article, and on the Simi Sera show on CKNW Jang has said he will not promise not to return to the same site ‘if it is still available”.  We suspect that it will be, as it is logical the developer will not redevelop until the other leases on his assembled property are up in three years, and we guess that this has likely has been discussed by the city upon renting for this year. The property owner has not responded to our calls, letter or emails for a meeting with us about his future plans, to dispel our misgivings.
Clr. Jang and Vision Council has to be pushed to look for an alternative site now to have on standby for next year. Winter comes every year, and there is no excuse to say that it is a last minute emergency bringing them back to 1210 Seymour St. That didn’t wash this year, and cannot wash next year when they can start looking now.
C. At this point, the fight clearly becomes political, challenging the Vision Council on its practices, and also questioning the efficacy and safety of current shelter policies. With the shelter just open a few days, we are already receiving some complaints of intimidation by shelter tenants toward our residents, and the workers inside not responding to a request for help.
My area of expertise in the fight has been, and will continue to be, to point out the total unacceptability of the 1210 Seymour site for the HEAT shelter based on my previous experience having fought against it being used for Social Services before. Erich Hershen and I have created lots of waves, and will continue to do so: to the point that Clr. Jang made a point about a professional media blitz against them. The reality is, the story is newsworthy, because the city has not acted with integrity.
 Now we need people who can question the misuse of Government power, and question the methodology and value of such shelters, to step up to lead us.  People with a vested interest in challenging the existing council, should be interested in taking up this challenge. THIS GOES BEYOND THE MEMBERSHIP OF OUR LITTLE ASSOCIATION. WHO DO YOU KNOW WHO WILL STEP IN TO TAKE THIS TO THE NEXT LEVEL, WITH OUR SUPPORT?
Plus questioning the city about their platitudes – studies they say they have done to prove there is homeless “in our area” such that it necessitated 2 shelters out of the four in the whole city, placed within 5 blocks of each other in New Yaletown. (The shelter at 21st and E 5th says some tenants there have arrived by cab. Hard to believe, but supporting the suspicion of importing tenants from farther away in the city, not close by.)

A few things that can be done immediately
1/Someone to request the studies from them under the Freedom of Information Act.” The homeless are located all over the whole of Vancouver South, and we want to know from where they are bringing them to us. Definitely there are some homeless in old Yaletown, but when questioned I have been told many of those wouldn’t go into a shelter, not feeling safe there.
2/Something else to be done: we need book learning about best placement principles from schools of urban planning, and social work, and /or bylaws in other cities anywhere in the western world, that support the best placement principles quoted in our last press release, which of course the papers never pickup.

3/We need to question everything they claim about the effectiveness of the shelters operation: how many homeless are still on the street, who won’t come in: The claim that supervisors in the shelters are trained in special techniques to treat the homeless: (When I went in, I found two former street youth in charge, who definitely know many of the clients, and have instructions of who to call if it gets out of hand. However, we don’t know what else they are trained to do to encourage the street people into permanent homes.)

Many communities are in an uproar over affordable (some of it supportive?) housing being thrust oversized in their neighbourhoods. (Dunbar is a good example of being angry.)  Of course we know that zoning must change in Vancouver to accommodate growth, but it must be done in consultation with the community: Not just calling a meeting to tell the citizens what you are going to do, but to hear the citizens, and not just to hear – an empty exercise, but to LISTEN. I have also gotten a phone call from tenants in supportive housing, saying behaviour inside them is out of control, with residents being accosted, and it not being a well supervised, safe situation. This is housing for which the tenants pay a share, and not a shelter. What a rabbit hole.
We need someone with some social service background, who doesn’t have a conflict of interest, to question on our part the whole continuum of services to the homeless, and not accept pat answers. There seems to be a huge self perpetuating social service industry, with multi millions of dollars being spent, most of it effectively we are sure, but some of it to be questioned for efficacy. Is warehousing of homeless for 5 months, as is happening here, for a cost of minimally $2,200 per month per bed, the most effective way of helping? ($400,000 operating costs divided by 40 equals $10,000 operating costs per bed for the 5 months, plus a share of the remodeling costs done by the city, guestimating that it had to cost much more than $40,000 to refit the garage for human habitation, but minimally amortizing a share of that figure $1,000.00 per bed, or $200. per bed a month 5 months.  Who can determine the absolute, actual cost of all this?
Is there a disability pension received by the homeless? I know it is hard for them to receive it, when having no address. Who has information on this?  Is there a better way that all this societal investment should be used to better serve both the homeless, and also respect the efforts of the tax paying citizens to create a comfortable urban neighbourhood? How do you treat the cause, rather than the symptom?
Lastly, we have to all get REALLY involved in the next civic election in two years, and make sure it is not a solid Vision council.  Currently, Clr. George Affleck is very sensible, and Adrienne Carr is open to facts, whereas the rest are a solid party line, with the admirable mandate of ending homelessness as their first priority, but with no consultation and setting up guidelines with the communities they impact, and with no consideration of the former mandate under the previous administration, which had drawn us to live downtown – LIVEABILITY in a diverse neighbourhood. In the case of the Seymour Street Shelter location, it has tipped the block from a diverse residential street, into a Social Services enclave.
Someone mentioned we are invited to a meeting in early January. Who has this information? I have missed it. In the meantime, drop in to see the shelter. They have invited us to do so. I did this before they had many residents. It is all one big space, just like in the Metro News picture with a maze of mattresses on the floor. I can’t imagine sleeping in such close quarters, or if sleep is possible with no curfews, a TV area planned for one corner, people chatting at tables, and, supported by sound we have heard on the street, people coming and going all night.

We must keep up our pressure. There was an interview on the Simi Sara Show, which you can access by going to CKNW  and clicking on their radio vault for Dec. 4, 2 p.m. I was on at 2:05, and after a commercial break, Clr. Jang was on. Ms. Sara asked him a few good questions, the most important one, after Clr. Jang once again flew the “temporary” banner, she pushed it, asking if they would return to the site again, and he affirmed that they would if there was the need, and if the site was still available.  Based on experience we know that there is always a need, and  suspect the site will be available for at least the next three to four years, so that is all the more reason for you all to get involved, and get your neighbours to sign up to receive our mail out, and to send letters to the city.

So who is willing to step up for this stage? I must return to my own life, willing to support, but not to be the point person, nor the media voice on issues with which I am not conversant. This is NOW POLITICAL, not just neighbours upset with bad placement of a shelter. (Even though we will continue to fight this). Who is interested in political brownie points?

At this point, as mentioned, it gets bigger than our one shelter. I have been contacted now with the next door neighbour of the shelter at 21 east 5th, where there was the same story of no-one knowing the shelter was being built – not even the police- and where already needles are appearing, and our contact saw a beating.

His name is[personal information removed].
I am sending him our information. At this point, it proves it doesn’t matter that we had a just cause not to have it on our block: it is bigger than that, and a fight against the bad governance of Vision council, period. I am not the person to lead that fight.  Who do you know who is?

Our new “partners” beside the 21st and E.5th shelter have a lot to bring to the table. The [residents around the shelter] are documenting what is going on around their shelter.

Once again, we mention having great new handouts, which we want to put into your hands and purses, to share with neighbours who will want to know how to contact us. That is how you can help: Keep on educating our community. It is our job to let the city know we care, and won’t stop caring. The opening of the shelter was a given: Now we must fight to keep it from negatively affecting our neighbourhood, and work to assure its departure as promised: Temporary, NOT seasonal. If they try to bring it back, it has to go through due process of development board hearing.

Spread our email address:[email protected]   for information, handouts and to sign up to our update list.
And once again, please write to city hall with any complaints and your experiences now that the shelter has opened. Hopefully, you will not be unduly affected. Many will, particularly those living right next to it.

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