Were local residents properly consulted before Mayor Robertson's HEAT shelters were opened in their neighbourhood?
Last week, a copy of a petition arrived in our firstname.lastname@example.org mailbox. The subject of the email was Mayor Robertson’s Homeless Emergency Action Team (HEAT) initiative. The author of the email was clearly not amused by the Mayor’s attempt to house Vancouver’s homeless in her neighbourhood.
Before you chalk it up to more NIMBYism, it’s worth taking a look at some of her concerns. Especially when you consider them in the context of Mayor Robertson committing to leading the most inclusive and consultative city government Vancouver has ever known.
The group in question calls themselves Concerned Citizens of False Creek North (CCFCN). They are focused on two homeless shelters located at 1435 Granville Street and 1442 Howe Street. Their email to us states:
Chaired by Mayor Robertson and composed of 14 members including city councillors, city staff, housing stakeholders, and private sector representatives, HEAT met almost every Sunday between December 9th, 2008 and March 8, 2009.
At NO time during those 3 months and 13 Sundays were affected neighbourhood residents and businesses informed, invited or included in ANY discussions.
Vancouver has a very good track record of getting community and neighbourhood buy-in for a number of projects related to either social housing or emergency shelters. One of the main reasons they have been accepted in local neighbourhoods relates to the extensive consultation city staff normally undertake within the community.
Even though some local residents don't always like Council’s final decision, for the most part, they at least feel like they've had their day in court. CCFCN clearly indicates this long-standing practice of community consultation has gone the way of the dodo bird.
CCFCN goes on to state:
Regarding City Process and Permitting: to allow the shelters to open as quickly as possible, City staff adjusted normal City approval processes. Emergency shelters normally require temporary Development Permits to operate...usually approved by the Director of Planning after a process that includes public notification.
City Process was waived: And while no neighbourhood notification process took place prior to the shelters opening, shelter operators notified neighbhours once the shelters were open and provided contact numbers people could call in case issues or concerns arose.
We have found NO evidence that any notification EVER transpired, nor been provided ANY contact numbers so our concerns and distress could be shared. Furthermore, in addition to waiving the need for Development Permits, the City also relaxed some requirements of the Vancouver Building Bylaw. What next...?
The CCFCN also highlites concerns that after being told the shelters would close no later than April 30, 2009, they have now heard they will become a permanent fixture in the neighbourhood until at least after the 2010 Olympics have come and gone. That is assuming funding is secured beyond the end of this month.
While I might normally dismiss this as are pure NIMBYism, the part that does strike me as being legitimate is their concerns related to the apparent lack of consultation and process afforded to local residents. Regardless of how good the intentions were of this Mayor and council, it is never a good thing for community building when local residents see this type heavy-handed approach being imposed on their neighbourhood.
It’s unclear as to whether or not this petition will gather any steam, or whether it will simply fall on deaf ears in the Mayor’s office. However, the old adage of the road to hell was paved with good intentions may very well apply in this case.
Councillor Kerry Jang is Vision's point person on this issue, and so far his response has been lacking. His appearance on the CKNW radio morning show was absolutely dreadful and the Mayor may soon regret putting him in charge of such a sensitive file.
Especially after he made remarks that he was shocked the shelters have not cleared out now that the weather has warmed up. Huh? Why would warmer weather suddenly mean that low-barrier shelters would have a dramatic drop in clientele? Did he expect with warmer temperatures all the homeless people would suddenly go back to sleeping on the streets?
The Mayor and his colleagues may have scored a short-term victory, however in doing so, they may have sent a very scary message to local residents concerned about what lengths this Vision council will go to in order to implement pet projects.
UPDATE: According to the Courier newspaper, the CCFN hosts a meeting this evening [Thursday] at 1500 Howe St., from 7 to 9 p.m. Vision Councillor Kerry Jang as well as a number of public officials will be on hand to answer questions.