Gregor Robertson counts homeless, but not the cost to taxpayers. Photo: CTV News
CityCaucus.com has received documents that show that Vancouver's "go it alone" homeless count last month has cost city taxpayers $75,000. Had Vancouver waited 12 months, it would have cost the City next to nothing.
In an exclusive report featured in today's 24 Hours newspaper, we're reporting that Vancouver staged its own homeless count last month and hired several consultants at $800 per day to help conduct it. In spite of enlisting hundreds of volunteers, city staff and even the Mayor himself, consultants are being paid in the five figures for their work on the count.
What is not widely understood by the public is that the homeless count is normally coordinated by Metro Vancouver as a regional count every three years. The next region-wide homeless count is scheduled for next March. Unlike Vancouver's $75,000 count, which the city footed the bill for, the regional count is paid for by the federal government and private agencies such as the Vancouver Foundation.
It's worth noting that the budget for 2008's regional homeless count was also $75,000 – and that included all cities in Metro Vancouver.
Why did Gregor Robertson need to rush the count when another count is taking place next March? Calls to the City's housing office for an explanation were not returned. Here below is the column featured in today's 24 Hours newspaper:
Mayor's homeless count pure politics
Last week the City of Vancouver released statistics that showed homelessness has increased 12% since 2008. The numbers were perceived as a setback for Mayor Gregor Robertson, who promises to end homelessness by 2015.
The homeless count had its biggest impact, however, on Vancouver taxpayers.
Documents obtained from city hall sources indicate that Vancouver budgeted up to $75,000 to conduct its own homeless count last March, and citizens are currently paying off bills worth over $51,000 for the results.
And in spite of enlisting hundreds of volunteers and city staff to conduct the count, multiple consultants on the project were paid up to $800 per day. One consultant alone has billed over $14,000 to date.
Typically Metro Vancouver coordinates a regional homelessness count every three years. For that effort the federal government picks up over half the tab, and groups like the Vancouver Foundation cover the remaining costs. Robertson made the case that his city needed to go it alone immediately, despite the fact that the regional homeless count – including Vancouver – is still on track for March 2011.
Critics argue that the Vancouver-only count is not as accurate because the homeless population often migrates in and out of the city’s boundaries.
So why did Vancouver spend all that dosh when they could have got the homeless count for a little or no cost if they had waited 12 months? The answer, dear readers, is pure politics.
Mayor Gregor Robertson – who used the occasion for a photo op of him counting homeless people – explained the rush to get new numbers by saying “We need updated, detailed information to track our progress.”
He didn’t mention anything about the fact funding for his HEAT shelters from the province is running out April 30th, which was his main motivation for spending up to $75,000.
Those who follow the money flowing into Vancouver city hall for social housing note that previous governments secured hundreds of millions of dollars in commitments from Victoria. So far, Robertson has only received just over six million for his HEAT shelters, and no new money for permanent housing.
Members of Roberton’s council have been calling for the province to pick up the costs of their shelters project past the April deadline. Housing Minister Rich Coleman is balking at the demands, insisting that the dollars be directed into housing and not temporary shelter beds. You want shelters, says Coleman to Vancouver, then pay half the costs.
What amazes city hall watchers the most is that Robertson’s shelter plan effectively “hid” Vancouver’s homeless population during the Olympics. Had an NPA mayor attempted this, homeless advocates would have condemned the idea. But because Gregor Robertson is perceived to be an ally of Vancouver’s left, those critics kept their daggers sheathed.
Vancouver’s Mayor is desperately trying to spin the shelters as a solution to the city’s “street” homelessness problem.
But with no apparent plan, no money coming in, and homelessness on the increase, the numbers are not adding up yet for Gregor Robertson’s 2015 promise.