"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.
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.