The False Creek North resident Lin Sheffield is a member of CCFCN (Concerned Citizens of False Creek North). She has lived in the area for 20 years and has seen many changes over the past two decades. But the biggest and most detrimental shift to safety in the neighbourhood tucked north of Pacific in Vancouver came six months ago when the City of Vancouver opened two “no/low barrier” shelters.
You’ve really seen a number of shifts in the neighbourhood since you first moved here?
Oh yes, in twenty years there has been lots of change. Lots of development. But the changes have been very radical lately and not very good.
Where is your building located?
We’re at Howe and Beach and we are the most affected building as we back onto the alley that houses both shelters.
What has happened to your neighbourhood since the shelters have been opened?
There has been a total loss of a sense of security. That was the reason why I, personally, moved into this area – it was a very safe neighbourhood.
The clients of the shelters come onto our walkway, the building’s private property and have been using shooting heroin and crack. In fact, this happening within a six block radius. Our members have reported open drug use in front and around the Aquatic Centre, C Restaurant, in open parkades.
We can go out at any time of day or night and see syringes, humans defecating and leaving their excrement. The shelter hoses down the alley each evening to wash away the human excrement and urine.
We have seen children and their mothers harassed while walking their kids to school. Last week the police had to be called because a child couldn’t get into the school because of drug users congregating in front of it.
Our flower beds are being used to stash drugs and other paraphernalia. We find syringes, weapons, drugs. Even a gun used in a recent homicide. This is all within sight of the preschool in our building and close to the elementary school down the street.
Not necessarily, but the shelter seems to attract, according to the police, the toughest and hardest of the criminal problem.
The Downtown Business Improvement Association reported recently that crime is down in the downtown core – how do you respond to that?
Well there are two things there. One, the Downtown BIA jurisdiction ends north of Pacific, and many of our issues are south of Pacific. If you speak to business owners down here, they will share all sorts of stories about challenges they are facing.
Criminal activity may have gone down in the rest of Vancouver, but the “west of Cambie” area has increased 45%. It is down 46% in the Downtown Eastside, as reported in the Province last Sunday but up by the same amount here.
We’ve always had some noise in the evening and sirens because of our location between two bridges, but now? The sirens are out of the world.
There is yelling at night. Fights at night. But noise isn’t really our major concern – it is the lack of safety.
What has been the response to the CCFCN?
We held a meeting on June 11th with 300 people. The neighbourhood really wants to find a solution, but the city won’t even admit that there is a problem.
The issues touch all neighbours, but especially seniors. Speaking with seniors, they tell me they feel like hostages inside their homes. Many of them are in subsidized housing and they are actually afraid to speak out of fear that they will lose their homes.
We have also lost trust and confidence in our civic leaders. We have been mocked, ignored, insulted – and meanwhile heroin users race into the shelters to avoid the police.
And what has the response by the City of Vancouver been?
Pretty close to nil, basically a zero response. I have been personally writing letters for months. Until yesterday, I never had a response from the Mayor. Yesterday I got my first form letter that went to a number of us in the neighbourhood. There have been no phone calls. No one has invited us to a meeting.
We get insulted via the media and feel as if they are telling mistruths about us. The city’s “No/low barrier” shelter misrepresents what is happening. It isn’t shopping carts and dogs – we are seeing people with serious drug issues, mental issues, and criminal issues including weapons.
We have been told that if the City had consulted us, we would have said no, so they went ahead without talking to us.
We want to find a solution, too. It just has to be workable for the clients of the shelter and those of us who are living near the shelter.
After the stabbing on June 19th, the best we got from the city was an email sent saying, “In regard to shelter clients, we are going to give training on building environments of respect.”
We thank our lucky stars for the media, who have drawn attention to what is going on down here.
What kind of solution exists?
The idea (no/low barrier shelter) has merit, but it needs to be done properly. It needs to be designed to help people in need and protect them and also protect those in the community. You can’t throw together a social experiment which turns into a magnet of mayhem and pretend it’s not happening. It is a disservice to those inside the shelter and those outside the shelter.
What do you think will happen now?
I’m really not sure. Since our resident was threatened to be stabbed with syringe on Thursday, I do fear some kind of retribution. We have imploring city to please help us. The situation is a ticking time bomb.
And still they don’t respond to us.
We have “Good Neighbour” agreement by Gregor Robinson, which is a non-solution to a very serious problem. It is beyond ridiculous and insulting.
The City tells us, “Go inside the shelter and see how clean and tidy it is inside”. The problem is that the violence, drugs, and weapons are outside the doors.
We have hundreds and hundreds of photos from all sorts of residents (see above) of all sorts of behavior within 10 feet of the shelter entrance.
There are lots of lessons to be learned from this situation, but if the Mayor and city staff doesn’t think that there is anything wrong, they won’t learn from it. We think that if we didn’t have the pictures, no one would have believed us.
It is the sort of situation that you can do a quick drive through and it all looks fine. And then you can come at wrong five minutes and be swarmed by drug dealers on bikes taunting you as you walk your kids to school.