Homeless death count in Burnaby is a call for action

Post by Mike Klassen in


"Street" homelessness being solved? Yes, according to Mayor Gregor's targets (video)

Last week's recent snap of sub-zero temperatures trained the public mind back onto Metro Vancouver's homeless problem, at least for a day or two. A noble campaign was started by a number of social media gurus to use Twitter to round up blankets, socks and other staples to drop off at fire stations and City Hall. Mayor Gregor Robertson, apparently the City's most famous insomniac, tweeted at 3:30am that he was touring the streets with outreach worker Judy Graves to make sure no one had missed out on getting a shelter.

A couple of weeks ago another homeless man, reportedly in his forties, was found dead in a doorway along busy Granville Street. I don't know how many of Vancouver's homeless have died in the past two years, apart from this poor fellow, the three transient men who burned to death on Pandora Street, and "Tracy," the woman who burned under her shopping cart trying to stay warm.

What we do know from a report in the Burnaby Now newspaper is that ten homeless people have died in the City of Burnaby since 2007. While homeless numbers are considerably smaller in the City of Burnaby than in neighbouring Vancouver, the situation around resources for homeless people is markedly different.

Derek-corrigan.jpg Under Mayor Derek Corrigan, a one-time rumoured BC NDP leadership candidate, the City of Burnaby has deflected any responsibility for housing the homeless, saying that it's the Province's responsibility. In Burnaby's view, according to critics, the homeless problem ends at Boundary Road, and starts again at North Road. The two hundred fifty souls who wander the streets in that city are not the concern of Burnaby's administration.

That is of course unless they get on the wrong side of the law, then the RCMP must deal with it. Compared to cities like Vancouver there are astonishingly few resources for homeless people in Burnaby:

There are an estimated 250 people in Burnaby who are dealing with homelessness. While there is an extreme weather emergency shelter that opens periodically, the city has no permanent, year-round shelter.

In Vancouver and in other cities and districts there has been a coordinated effort to collaborate with the provincial government. As Minister of Housing & Social Development Rich Coleman likes to say, these governments bring something to the table. In Vancouver's case – especially under the previous administration – land and reduced development levies helped to broker a deal to fund 14 new social housing projects.

One might surmise that Vancouver now has bitten off more than it can chew. The City has become a full-fledged social services ministry in its own right, which in the long term is unsustainable without more funding from senior levels of government. Whereas in Burnaby, the opposite is true.

In Burnaby, Corrigan won't make deals with Rich Coleman. It seems that these big boys can't seem to come to terms with each other. But currently the Minister holds all the cards, and unless Derek Corrigan can "bring something to the table" Burnaby's homeless will continue to suffer. Corrigan, in the Burnaby Now interview, claims to be surprised that so many homeless in his city have died.

"I'm not doubting that (Mulholland) has some evidence she can come to the provincial government with. I think it's a pretty damning situation. Unfortunately, those people don't have social workers. For some reason the provincial government doesn't feel it's necessary to provide social workers for people who are homeless and in distress," he said.

Burnaby's mayor doesn't stop there, and continues to point the finger at Victoria. He even says that the current BC Liberal government simply doesn't care about homeless people.

Corrigan also pointed out that housing is the responsibility of the province, not the city, and he said the problem will only end with a change of government.

"It's clearly a matter of government policy to keep these people on the streets, and they are not prepared to put the investment in that's required to be able to deal with the hard-to-house - that's what these people are. They are not going to fit into your normal market housing, even social housing," he said.

A deal between Derek Corrigan and Rich Coleman doesn't sound like it's happening anytime soon. The question for the current NDP leadership candidates is simple – will they partner with local jurisdictions as Coleman has all over B.C., or unilaterally provide funding?

The issue of homelessness in Vancouver and Burnaby raises a lot of questions. Does either strategy make sense at all?

Let's look at CTV reporter Kent Molgat's report from last week about a woman who does not want to seek shelter from the freezing cold. The video from the report pulls at the heartstrings, but many of the claims made by the interview subjects are extremely dubious. For example, Maggie, the woman sleeping on the street claims of the "80" Hazelwood Hotel residents "79" are hooked on crystal meth.

A meth addict "Fern" says that she needs crystal meth to help her forget the bedbugs. Molgat asks her if she smoked the stuff before arriving in her "low (no) barrier" hotel room. "No," she said. Yeah, right.

As part of the strategy to get people off the street, Vision Vancouver in cooperation with BC Housing have made all of these hotels "low barrier" like the Hazelwood Hotel in the CTV story. Molgat's report is an example of how Vision under Robertson are dealing with the homeless issue. Maggie is the problem – she's "street homeless." Fern, on the other hand, is indoors so Gregor can put a check mark beside her name.

By looking after Burnaby taxpayers first, Corrigan appears to have absolved his city of these issues.

The parochial politics of Metro Vancouver, where jurisdictions don't agree on issues like supporting social housing, regional economic, transportation or tourism strategies, is the long term challenge of the region. It won't be resolved, as Corrigan suggests, by merely swapping in the NDP as B.C.'s government.

What do you think? Should Burnaby work harder to support their homeless? Is Vancouver's strategy working? Leave your comments below.


The problem is that most people want to see the homeless sheltered if that is what they want but don't want any kind of hostel or homeless shelter close to them.

After seeing the results from Robertson's shelter last year under the Granville bridge can you blame them?

I would say Corrigan's non-actions are supported by most people in Burnaby.

I'll grant you the shelters in North False Creek in 2009 were a disaster. However, the myth about shelters is that they all become lightning rods for crime & social disease. Social housing (as opposed to shelters) is prevalent in multiple n'hoods in Vancouver, and you don't hear a peep from neighbours most of the time.

Maybe the people of Burnaby don't want Corrigan to do anything about homelessness. I suspect though that citizens want their leaders to do the right thing, and what Mayor Corrigan is not doing is hardly a shining example of supposedly progressive government.

Funny how the left howl for more supports when a centre-right gov't is in power. The NPA and BC Liberals have done more for homelessness than any left wing governments, whether it's the City of Burnaby, the NDP administration of the 90s, or Vision Vancouver today.

"In Vancouver's case – especially under the previous administration – land and reduced development levies helped to broker a deal to fund 14 new social housing projects."

These 14 new social housing projects should be a matter of pride for Vancouver. The City's Housing Section assures residents via their website that "everyone who comes into supported housing must be engaged in regular professional treatment for their mental illness or addiction and must keep up that involvement in treatment to retain their housing".

But talk to the organizations named to manage these projects, and you'll find that some of them have no intention of implementing this treatment provision. So, as things stand, these projects have the potential to be just as disastrous as the shelters in False Creek North, and for exactly the same reasons.

(see http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/housing/supportivehousingstrategy/faqs.htm for the City's assurance about treatment)

@ Mike:

It seems Councillor Meggs disagrees with you....

From the Province, Feb. 27, 2011

Protestors who set up tent city at former Olympic Village ordered off vacant lot


“The (protesters’) demands are astonishing” and the target of their protest misplaced, said Counc. Geoff Meggs. “I’m surprised they haven’t made their way down to the Liberal leadership convention. (Housing) is a provincial responsibility.”

And, he said, “The city of Vancouver has done more than any other jurisdiction to build social housing.”


I think it is very low indeed for Corrigan to pass the buck while people die in Burnaby. As far as I know the the NDP have not given up on the homeless like Corrigan. Is anyone taken a look at this man's humanity? Shame on Corrigan and all the people that support him. The cold and the hunger does not go away just because he thinks its some other person or gov't body that is responsible.
Time to get rid of this shadow of a NDP representative.

Reminds me of when I lived in Santa Barbara, California in the 1980's. Santa Barbara had a large homeless population (favourable weather and lovely beach and parks system were conducive to people migrating to the coast, while housing costs and a rental shortage made access to market housing very difficult). Although the factors were many and varied that led to the homelessness, the city claimed there was no homeless problem.

To back their position up the city would round up 30-40 homeless each night and place them on a bus that dumped them in Los Angeles. End of homeless problem for Santa Barbara.

Sounds like Corrigan wishes he had a bus.

So I guess the first thing King Corrigan will present to the Queen of Housing Corrigan in an NDP government will be a list of shovel ready projects to house the Homeless in Burnaby. Does anyone know if Burnaby even has a list of sites that could be developed for social housing and I don`t mean social housing for middle class union workers in tax payer supported co-ops.

Didn`t Corrigan also object when Coleman brought some run down housing and was going to make it into social housing

The City of Vancouver has about 25 % of the regions population and somewhere around 75 % of all of the regions shelter beds. We contribute more than our fair share - the region needs to step up to the plate.

A guestion to ask each of the NDP leadership candidates is - where in your riding will social housing be built - there answer is likely to be - it is the rsponsibility of the local municipal council to decide such matters.

I think the Elephant in the room needs to be addressed..

Vancouver has the most union paid supports for homeless, as well, there is a general acceptance of drug use in Vancouver...why wouldn't everyone congregate here?

There are times when I think we have created our own problems by fostering a system of "invisible institutionalization"..keep feeding, keep providing free needles, clothing, shelter, great weather...why try to get healthy or re-enter society?? where is the incentive?

If you take a persons responsibility to themselves away, where is the incentive?

In my opinion from personal experience, time to address the Elephant in the room, drugs at this point in time are illegal.. time to rethink forced rehab..Vagrancy Act

IMO this is a kinder support...with greater freedom...

The poor are nothing more than a stick to beat the government with. The NDP has bigger fish to fry. When Joy MacPhail (great name) was Minister of Finance she introduced the 3-month waiting period and cut rates to welfare recipients to pay for a raise for members of BCTF.

At the moment we're putting our social programs (including housing) on the credit card, along with a piece of the salaries and benefits of all government employees. The NDP's only advice is to borrow and spend even more. Need more money? Simple: tax the rich and the greedy earth-raping corporations. What are they going to do? Leave the province?

The real problem the bleeding hearts face is the fact that you can't give someone dignity or self-respect. If they've thrown theirs away they have to get it back on their own. Telling them that the State will provide for all their needs is not only a cruel lie, but all attempts to do so have only made the situation worse.

How do you tell if somebody is NDP? They can't distinguish between the truly needy and the lazy and greedy, but if the latter belong to a union there's a home for them in the Party.

Burnaby is the forgotten city in the Metro area. Nothing but a black hole just east of Boundary Road. Derek Corrigan runs Burnaby just like a little tin despot. Best to ignore him.

does anyone here really think this stops at boundary road??
Vancouver is a drug infested, poverty pimped, free injection site and magnet for all for Canada! You can thank VISION for re-enforcing that perception and inviting more and more to invade from the' east'.
I applaud Burnaby's mayor for letting VISION spend their tax dollars on a provincial and national issue while Gregor is duping the civic taxpayers. All Corrigan needs to do is buy folks for a skytrain pass -- or if you follow Gregor's example skip the fare and you're there!!

and please stop using this 'Tracy' as a rallying cry. She was offered shelter numerous times and refused AND she was a convicted felon who broke into an elderly man's home and beat the crap out of him for a few bucks to buy drugs. No one ever mentions that fact!! Do I care??

I believe there is an even bigger elephant.
The word ' homeless '.
What does it mean?
Is this a person with mental illness and/or addiction?
Is this a mother and children fleeing an abusive situation?
Is this a senior who can't afford to rent anywhere anymore?

Everybody is screaming house the homeless but they don't seem to be paying attention to each person's individual needs.
Treatment for some.
Safety for many.
Some may never be able to live in society because they are too ill.

Hard decisions must be made and I just don't see anybody with courage and conviction making them.

@ Chris (one of many):


But if anyone were to ever try to make a move to actually do the right thing by many of these people, you would have the poverty pimps and the BC Civil Libs grabbing their pitch forks.

What I don't understand is why there aren't units that are not just low barrier, which are nothing more than city owned drug houses, but units where there is no drug tolerance for those that truly are trying to change their lives.

This little woman should not have to choose living on the streets because of drug use in a government funded and city run facility. That is absolutely ridiculous.

If this is what Robertson, Jang (huge proponent of low barrier everything), Vision, Judy Graves, Mark Townsend and the PHS consider acceptable practice then I greatly suggest you look at raising the bar.

And I would be damned curious to get Jang's reaction to this video.

I can almost guess what he will say, but hey, it would be worth nothing less than the entertainment value to see him grinning away while telling the rest of us, all is good and Vision is meeting their goals of getting people off the streets.

I was reading Malcolm Gladwell's new book "What the Dog Saw" the other day. There is a chapter you can google on the net called "Million Dollar Murray (http://tamarackcommunity.ca/downloads/TO_res/Million_Dollar_Murray.pdf)

It is a fascinating chapter on how some American Cities are reformulating their approach towards homelessness. It was powerful food for thought, backed up with dollars and cents #'s and approaches that seem to be effective when pitched at the hardest to house (as chris one-of-many rightly addresses the homeless run a spectrum of peoples)

I heartily recommend the read to anyone who has the time and can get down to their local library or bookstore. It is an issue that won;t be solved by lip-service, electioneering, moralizing or finger-pointing, nor by loading the homeless on a bus out of Burnaby.

cheers all

chris(one of many)

well said...

Check out BCWineLover.com!

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