HEAT shelters: Let's put people before politicking

Post by Sean Bickerton in

5 comments

Homeless, hungry
Unique strategies are needed to address different types of homeless

CityCaucus.com welcomes Sean Bickerton as guest editorialist...

When Tom and I moved back to Vancouver from New York two and half years ago, we landed in a studio apartment at the foot of Howe next to the Granville Street Bridge. It was tiny, but we loved the neighbourhood and walked the seawall every day of the week, come rain, hail or snow.

It's a quiet corner of the city, with one of the best bakeries in town - Tartine; a pre-school; and a social housing complex for the elderly that maintains one of the most beautiful garden beds on the seawall.

The owner of Tartine's, Jo-Ann, is a vibrant, big-spirited woman who bakes the best bread, pies and butter tarts in the city. She lived in our building and always laughed at my cheek, because I could never resist stealing a few luscious, red strawberries out of the heaping bowls she sometimes carried up to her apartment in the elevator. Our neighbour on the right, Maria, an inveterate traveler, was a retired stewardess who worked part time for the cruise lines during the summer months to stretch a fixed income.

Real people, in other words, living real lives and dealing with all of the challenges and puzzles modern life presents. They are literally the salt of this Canadian earth we are lucky enough to live upon - hard-working, kind, reliable, good neighbours.

And so, when I hear Councillor Kerry Jang denouncing my former neighbours and friends in The Georgia Straight as "irresponsible" because "they don't care" about the homeless; when he implies they are reckless and troublesome, I take issue with his remarks - Dr. Jang owes these Vancouverites an apology.

All the moreso because it wasn't the residents of False Creek North that have acted in an 'irresponsible', 'uncaring', 'reckless' or 'troublesome' manner. It was Dr. Jang and Mayor Robertson that acted without consultation, without preparation, and without concern for the people affected by their actions. They seem to think that if people are just swept off the streets and shoved into shelters, their job is done.

But opening shelters is not a plan to end homelessness. People become homeless for a variety of reasons, and to be successful, our plan needs to address underlying causes. As Suzanne Anton explained to me the other day, there are distinct groups of people using the Granville Street shelters for very different reasons. Some are coping with serious alcohol and drug abuse problems, many dealing with mental health challenges. But there are also young people backpacking across the country and the working poor - in one case, a group of quiet, well-behaved, Central American labourers working full-time but staying in shelters to send all of their wages home to their families.

To be successful, different strategies are required for different populations facing unique challenges, yet this entire effort has been thrown together in a slap-dash manner with little thought for the consequences to the neighbourhood or the services required to suppport shelter residents. It is deeply disappointing because in the process the city has let down those most in need.

Ending the misery of homelessness is both a noble and necessary goal. But it will take a concerted, coordinated long-term plan involving mental health treatment, treatment for alchoholics and addicts, public health services, education, job training, job creation, and the strengthening of neighbourhoods, not the weakening of them.

It will also take a leader capable of bringing the city together rather than constantly dividing us through the petty politicization of every issue with a constant refrain of cheap, partisan shots at previous councils and mayors, ad nauseum ...

I like some of the Vision Councillors - I speak highly of a number of them. And I understand how difficult their jobs are. I also salute the Mayor's good intentions to end homelessness.

But there is no excuse for this kind of incompetent, improvised effort when the Mayor is playing with people's lives.

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Vancouver native Sean Bickerton is Managing Partner of Kulture Shock Media. He ran in the last civic election for the NPA as a candidate for Vancouver City Council and currently serves on the NPA Board of Directors.

5 Comments

Sean,
thank you for best synopsis of this issue. The tactics of Jang and Robertson were to pit us all as uncaring, heartless, self absorbed, latte sipping NIMBY's. Then they tried to say we already had a kiddie hooker stroll and lots of crime already - as if this justifies adding more of the same.
The last trick they nearly launched last week was one quick announcement that the Howe shelter was for Gay, Lesbian, Bi Sexual and Transgender homeless. They came THAT close to also labelling us as Homophobic gay-bashers. That tact was quickly pulled back - maybe Jang and Gregor studied some statistics and realized False Creek may just have one or two Gays, Lesbians and Transgenders living here, paying taxes and voting.

If as you claim there are people with vision on VISON I would like them to en-vision the world Gregor is building - one of division and hatred. They better see this soon before he ruins the City and VISION enters a long dark tunnel.

Wow! Sean, thank you.

You have eloquently articulated what so many residents of this community have been trying to express for months now.

With sincere thanks,

Bonnie Dreger

please note the VISION Party is hard at work - they have a "Party in The Park" on July 16th - enjoy a movie with the Mayor (sorry - I've seen Cinderella and it ends badly). Also not to be outdone councillor Tim Stevenson and Park Commissioner Aaron Jasper are dropping some of your tax money on BRUNCH at the Fountainhead on Davie July 18th.
Hmmm - this is the same party that refers to False Creek residents as irresponsible latte sipping NIMBY's.

I wonder - as Fountain Head is on Davie and Burrard and the boys plan a brunch there just a few days after closing a lane on the Burrard bridge I personally can 'VISION' some folks not being appeased by the fine eggs bene at Fountainhead, but that's just me and I'm no a professional politician.

SO tell me again what the VISION party is all about - I'm very confused? Seems like less Vision and more party?

Thank you Sean for a thought-provoking editorial; taking the onus off of the community residents of seeming so heartless to the homeless - yes, this is the outcome of extremely thoughtless decisions on behalf of the Mayor & council; it is his consequence.........
And why do you think he is now trying to divert attention from the Heat shelters to a new bike bridge????? Does he think that the False Creek situation will just disappear?? How come he can come up with big $$$ for a bike bridge??? Any consultation, Gregor????????

There's no long-term solution in providing homeless shelters. There's nothing good that can come out of penalizing tax paying citizens and throwing a problem into their neighbourhoods to deal with, without their approval. I am sure most tax paying citizens do not want drug addicts, prostitutes and other illegal activities in their neighbourhood. This definitely is not good for tourism & family upbringing. What will you tell your kids when they asked about public sex acts or crack pipe smoking in broad daylight? What we need to do is take a more logical & practical approach to the problem rather than emotional & subjective. Definitely Gregor won the idealistic vote but soon everyone will vote for practicality. Drug addicts will lie through their teeth & use every trick in the book to continue their ways. We need to round them up, ship them to a remote facility where they will get re-education & rehabilitation on top of shelter. There should also be some sort of business there for the homeless to work off this program and gain work experience. Hand outs causes a lower sense self worth & pride. Teach a man to bake bread. Teach a man self worth and give them a sense of dignity.

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