Homeless in False Creek – Flickr photo by waferboard
There were a pair of incidents in downtown Vancouver on Sunday at the Sun Run that would appear to be related to mental illness. The most widely reported incident involved a runner being stabbed in the face in an apparent random attack. CKNW crack reporter Janet Brown was on the file late Tuesday, revealing that the victim's injuries were quite serious.
In the attack on a Sun Run participant, a dull knife was jabbed in the victim's face that penetrated his skull just below one eye. The victim's brother flew up from the US, and met with media today to urge that the Run has better security. More on that in a moment.
Another bizarre incident happened around the same time when a 20-year old man stripped off his clothing and dove into the icy waters of False Creek. A search dive team sought after the man, who apparently drowned.
I'm going out on a limb here because the details of each case are still under investigation, but both have telltale signs of mental illness in the perpetrators of each incident. To date this is not an aspect of the story which has been discussed by the media, which is why I put it out to our readers. There are many ill people who wander our streets, yet the political imperative has shifted away from dealing with symptoms of homelessness, and turned toward managing the optics of it.
In other words, instead of combining supports to deal with the addictions and mental health issues plaguing Vancouver's homeless population, we're focusing instead on shelters that make the problem less visible.
We've said it before here on CityCaucus.com. Since the election of Vision Vancouver, the City's lauded Four Pillars program has gone on life support. I cannot recall ever hearing Mayor Robertson use the word "drugs" in any political context. Amazingly, there is no reference at all to drugs or drug use in the City's HEAT shelter literature.
Some say that Robertson's reticence to talk about drugs is all about the Mayor's image. Drugs are complicated and dirty, whereas shelters are simple and noble.
There was a program that dealt with the issues of drugs and mental illness head on in Vancouver, that is until Vision Vancouver spent months smearing it, then killed it off. It enlisted the help of Senator Michael Kirby of the Canadian Mental Health Commission, and used a powerful lobbyist to convince Victoria to invest heavily in a layered approach including permanent housing. That lobbyist was Geoff Plant and that program was called Project Civil City.
Now, it's possible that the people behind the incidents from last Sunday were not depressed nor drug-addicted and self-medicating. That doesn't mean that Vancouver's significant problems around mental health and addiction go away.
I'm sure that next year's Sun Run will have considerably more security because of this incident, largely because of today's media interviews with Biyong Chen, the brother of the stabbing victim. But it would be also nice to know that as much effort was put into dealing with mentally ill people with a history of violent behaviour before they get to a breaking point.
Vision Vancouver has a plan – it's called getting re-elected. If there ain't no votes in it, they're going to steer clear of issues like drugs and mental illness in spite of big promises to support the Four Pillars program in their campaign platform.