Tiered policing experiment about to be turfed

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


downtown-ambassador.jpgAs predicted here earlier, Vision Councillor Raymond Louie has now introduced a last-minute motion to  halt any future funding to expand the successful Ambassador program.

You will recall that the Vancouver Police Union threatened the City with legal action if it went forward and provided funding to support the Ambassador program.

Here's what Tom Stamatakis, president of the Vancouver Police Union, told the Georgia Straight:

“If the Vision group gets elected and we see a new mayor on that side, well, they’ve been quite clear that they don’t think it’s appropriate for tax dollars to be used to fund what are essentially private security guards working for only a very small constituency in the city,”

No reaction yet from the various Business Improvement Associations throughout the city who may have been counting on some of this funding to get more eyes and ears on their streets.


Here's your reaction.

We are frustrated and we are disappointed. I think I can safely say that for all 16 BIAs that have been working on this project since April of 2008.

Personally, I am disappointed because the merits of this program have been trumped by politics, external interests and poor information about what the needs are in our communities and how the Ambassador program fills a gap that will never be filled by police officers. I am disappointed because the city has spent close to $100,000 in admin costs to get this program up and running, the BIAs have spent thousands of dollars doing needs assessments and preparing to ramp up our existing programs and now we are throwing the whole thing out the window. What a waste to prove a point. We were not formally advised or consulted in advance of Tuesday's motion. Did we know it was coming? We did not fall off the rabbit truck yesterday but it would have been nice if they had said or done something to explain themselves before tabling their motion.

I am very frustrated. Our problems still exist. Does this program cancellation mean there is another plan that is better to replace it? Likely not. Don't tell me that this new Council wants to invest more dollars in police or community policing centres. I don't care how many police we hire, we will never have them assisting our communities in the way an Ambassador does.

Community centres sound nice in theory. For most of the BIAs it still does not address the issue for a multitude of reasons. It is certainly not a feasible alternative in my own community.

BIAs were never created to deal with what I call "citizenship issues" but our members (who pay 5 times the taxes of any resident) are telling us that safety and security is their top priority. So what do we do. Our organization spends $90,000 for services we already pay taxes for. My share of the Ambassador expansion monies would have been $33,000. The reporting requirements were arduous. The contract was a mile long. I doubt that any NFP organization in the city is subjected to the same kind of scrutiny.

Needless to say I could ramble on.

The point is... the program had value. Is it perfect - no, beat cops and bylaw enforcement would be my preference but it is not going to happen in my lifetime.

So, we are left with a quantified need, a lost opportunity and no solutions.

Sharon Townsend
South Granville BIA

Sharon Townsend - You represent what many see to be an increasingly out of touch section of Vancouver. The aging, white, country club-membership carrying Shaughnessy elite...the creme de la creme, who for some illogical reason list safety and security as their top priority, as you've pointed out. Why? Because Point Grey isn't secure enough already?
The Ambassador program was a thinly-veiled attempt to protect strictly business' interests, all the while further marginalizing the already marginalized. And the rest of us are to foot the bill. The Ambassador program never benefited me, my family or friends in any tangible way. But existed because the BIAs will not be satified until poverty is a legislated crime. Well, we are getting there, no thanks to self-interested purse-string holders such as yourself.

I am quietly celebrating Council's motion to cancel further funding and you can go ahead and be outraged, stomp your feet, talk endlessly about how much property taxes you and your BIA breathren pay. That's all Vancouver's elite are good for anyhow.

The idea was a failed one to begin with.

$100,000 could have been better spent to clear the roads of snow that 50% of the people in Vancouver dont know how to drive in.

It's unfortunate that the opponents of the Downtown Ambassadors program who claim to care so much about the homeless do not take the time or make the effort to better understand what the Downtown Ambassadors do each and every day.

During this cold spell they handed out warm clothes, food and up to date information about the shelters that the City is funding. We have done this for several consecutive years without seeking publicity because it is the right thing to do.

A number of the Ambassadors are former homeless people themselves who are now paying it forward by helping others access services that are available.

For example, in the wee hours of Monday morning, the portion of the service that the City is currently funding in the downtown area, two Ambassadors discovered a person lying on the sidewalk who had consumed rubbing alcohol, and was convulsing and vomiting. They called an ambulance when no one else was around and likely saved this person's life.

Perhaps rhetoric, unfounded accusations and plain ignorance can take a back seat to learning and better understanding what the program is really about. We care just as much about those living on our streets as you do.

Charles Gauthier
Executive Director
Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association

yahooo good riddance to the obnoxious geeks in red


You make an excellent case for funding the street nurse programme rather the the Ambassadors.

@ Charles: I completely agree.

As a resident of the DTES, I have never -ever- seen the Ambassadors do anything for our community - I've never seen them instructing the many confused tourists who get to the end of Gastown, look at their maps to see how to get to Chinatown, and end up seeing Pigeon Park in the middle. If the Ambassador program was working properly, there would be Ambassadors standing in Gassy Jack square to direct tourists at nearly all times.

Instead, I've seen the ambassadors 'move along' the homeless, stand in doorways smoking cigarettes, chatting on cell phones, hit on the girls working at Starbucks, and not really do anything.

Prior to the Ambassadors' arrival in Gastown some 6ish months ago, the Gastown BIA seemed to have hired it's own guared from a secuirty company. Our hood had the same 1 or 2 guards always working in the nighborhood - they were friendly, and respectful to all residents of our neighborhood, homeless or not.

This program is a waste of money that ONLY benefits the business owners - not the residents or even the tourists. I understand business owner's desire to keep their districts safe and secure, but this program does nothing real to further that agenda. Moving homeless people around the corner doesn't make them go away.

I heard about the call for donations of warm clothing to the Downtown Ambassadors for them to pass on to homeless people during the recent cold snap... and my reaction then was that it was akin to giving cheese to cats to hand out to hungry mice.

If they are there to help the homeless then why did I witness one kick a homeless person to wake him up one morning on Granville Street?

They are there simply to move the homeless along, not help them.

There are many approaches to complex problems and it is sad to see sanctimonious, uniformed individuals take shots at other people and their hard work. They presume to be the only ones who care about others, yet they viciously attack people, organizations and programs. It is unfortunate to see people transfer their own warped belief systems onto others.

I know many of the objects of scorn and know them to be caring people who have done more to help unfortunate people than their critics have perhaps ever contemplated.

The Downtown Ambassador program continues to provide good service to a broad spectrum of people, from those whose circumstances force them onto the streets to those seeking information on transit, businesses, attractions and events. Less than 10% of their work involves interacting with street involved people.

These visible concierges of the street provide services to everyone, not just businesses. For every business person who walks down a street in a business district, hundreds of others enjoy those same streets and benefit from the Ambassador program. Our business districts are where people come to work shop, play and seek shelter.

Public safety is a shared responsibility. At one end we have the police with professional training and special powers. At the other end are individual citizens and in between we have community organizations, charities, and yes, Downtown Ambassadors. If I had to really put my finger on what the ambassadors do, it is to model citizenship. They do what others wish they had the courage, time or ability to do. They step in to help people, to ask people to respect the rights of others and they call the authorities when there is a problem. Isn't that what citizens do.

The Downtown Ambassadors are representative of the community in ways others cannot imagine. Some have come from difficult times and have lived on the streets themselves. Others are new to Canada and bring useful languages and perspectives. Some are returning to the workforce after raising children. There are single mothers, people recovering from disabling injuries and some seeking experience in problem solving and others skills that will help them move forward into other careers.

I have seen the ambassador program from different perspectives, formerly from the police side and then as a member of the DVBIA team managing the program. I have also been part of a group that introduced a social service organization into the City and built 23 shelter beds and 50 transitional housing units. I have also run a museum and been an adviser to many youth organizations. So I feel that I have a sense of balance, proportionality and perspective when I look at the ambassador program and its fit into the complex City we love.

The expansion of the ambassador program is not going to happen and I think that is a loss to the general public and to the street involved people. Many welcomed the overnight ambassador expansion because someone was there to check on them. Yes, they also had to ask some to respect property rights of some businesses. Street people are preyed upon by other more aggressive street involved individuals and many of the unfortunate people felt safer knowing the ambassadors were around.

As for those who yell at others to do something while they do nothing, Ms. Townsend had the feet of the homeless in her BIA measured and provided them with winter boots that fit, gloves, socks and warm clothing. Did I mention that she and a few of her Board members paid for that out of their own pockets.

Soften up boys and girls, most people care and no one has any particular ownership of the moral high ground. There is room there for lots of us.

Dave Jones

Just as there are rules governing security companies, there needs to be rules governing ambassadors.

I am in Nanaimo where we use both private security and ambassadors to patrol our streets.

Personally, while being one of those responsible for introducing ambassadors and private security in downtown Nanaimo, I am going to say that more needs to be done with respect to training, our legal system, social issues and tourism.

Both ambassadors and private security need to understand what they are, and more importantly - what they are not.

Issues surrounding public use of public spaces, agent status, individual rights are all of concern to me as I see businesses using ambassador like programs to rid public spaces of undesirables.

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