CityCaucus Redux: Heat shelter roll-out was PR disaster for Gregor Robertson

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


The HEAT shelter program was rammed into Vancouver neighbourhoods

Today we're featuring a CityCaucus Redux on a post we first published back in June 2009. We documented how Vision Vancouver's HEAT shelter program was not going over very well with residents in a number of neighbourhoods. Almost two years since we wrote this post, Mayor Gregor has yet to secure any significant new funding for permanent housing in Vancouver. Rather, all of his efforts appear aimed at sweeping people off the streets and into church basements. What follows is a post we did whereby Robertson was getting roasted by Province columnist Michael Smyth.


Over the last several weeks, I've had the opportunity to work with Province columnist Michael Smyth as he's played guest host on the top-rated Bill Good Show on CKNW.  Smyth is a guy I've really enjoyed reading over the last decade or so, even if I haven't always agreed with him on every issue.

Early this morning over my first cup of java, I stumbled upon an excellent column he wrote about Vision Vancouver Mayor Robertson and his major bungling of the HEAT shelter issue in Vancouver. The Province newspaper calls it a "fiasco" and says "it won't be easy to get people on side" after the way this file was so badly mishandled. In yesterday's Globe and Mail, even BC Housing Minister Rich Coleman told Frances Bula this was amateur hour at City Hall. Although Coleman has subsequently apologized for that remark.

Michael Smyth's column is a must read but here are a few of the best lines:

The False Creek North shelters were so thoroughly botched by city hall that it's hard to imagine any neighbourhood that would now be willing to co-operate with Robertson on his housing agenda.

And he goes on to state:

I hear lots of grumbling that Robertson simply doesn't have the backbone to stand up to the raving left-wing idealogues inside his own party.

I'm sure there are some Vision Vancouver types who thought it was deliciously subversive to stick a bunch of junkies and crackheads into a smug cocoon of latte-sipping condo-dwellers and watch the ensuing mayhem.

I think Robertson has tremendous potential as a politician, but he must get a grip on his own agenda. The next "bold idea" that could go sideways on him: the bicycle-only lane on the Burrard Street bridge.

Then Province readers had a chance to weigh in with their comments:

And this is the guy has almost become the heir apparent to 'lead' the BC NDP. Ray Graham, I'll applaude the Gregor with my cojones. 'Guts and initiative' Smyth says, 'it's execution that matters'. The Gregor's timing and execution is gardens at city hall, homeless shelters in False Creek...chickens in your yards... - Bill B

Why don't they have the shelters in Robertson's or Jang's neighbourhood? Maybe they should have NIMBY experience too! - Ann

Did the NDP win Vancouver city hall last Nov election with majority of the lousy 16% who showed up to bother voting ? Think about turning out to vote next time. The NDP/socialists are "not fit to run a lemonaid stand" [WACB] ....that advice still rings true. Those mentally ill drug taking people need to be picked up and taken to a hospital for help,forceably. Not pretend that putting them amongst the sane will work. Smarten up, go vote next time. and Have a nice day!! - Dothe math

Yesterday Gregor looked like a kid after being spanked by Rich Coleman. Only 48 hours ago he was wearing his cape flying over Beach ave giving the residences the finger thinking he had Coleman up against the ropes  for funding his pet project. Unforrtuantely (sic) Coleman calling his bluff and Gregor was left with only his shorts.. To Coleman's credit he did not kick Gregor when he was down, helping him save his face by giving the other pig pen a 30 day reprieve. Gregor better be on his best behavior or he's going to get smacked again. - GGS

The second shelter in the neighbourhood has 30 days to shape up, or it too will be closed. I expect it is on life support and won't live much past that deadline if residents keep up the HEAT.

What the Mayor should do in the coming days is to demonstrate some real leadership and shuffle councillor Kerry Jang out of his municipal cabinet. Jang is one of the weaker members of the Mayor's inner-circle and it's time he appoint someone like veteran Heather Deal or Tim Stevenson on this file pronto.

Politically, he can ill afford to keep Jang on this file for much longer. Perhaps the good councillor might be interested in becoming Robertson's new Minister for Sewers and Water? Has a good ring to it doesn't it?


Oh, I was at the meeting surrounding the Granville St. heat shelter and all the issues it brought to that neighborhood.

I still remember Jang taking off his name tag and stuffing it in his pocket once he realized that more than a dozen people were showing up and they were not happy.

It is interesting that this subject is re-posted,and the City ironically, is still fighting for the shelter dollars. Churches are housing more of the homeless.
It almost appears as if we have created a communal shelter type of housing solution, with very well paid staff to supervise. But nothing is being solved.

On a more somber note, I ran into a homeless man that I know today. I've written before about how the system has failed him. I've known him for a number of years, and I don't think there is an agency in town that haven't counted him in their numbers for "FUNDING" purposes.He has been let down, but every agency will say he was unmanageable or difficult. which in the poverty industry is code language for "I might actually have to do my job and work with this man."

I've watched how the system has used him...a bloody shame.

It broke my heart to see him today, he has aged 30 years in 6 months, I don't think he will survive much longer if he doesn't get off the street.

I almost didn't recognize him, the twinkle was even gone from his eyes...he shuffled like an old man even though he won't reach 50 until the end of this month.

On Monday morning at 10:00 am he said he has an appointment with a housing person...I recognized the name on the worn card he showed me, and I can only hope that the person that has that interview tomorrow morning looks into this man's eyes.. and please find him a warm bed, he told me he would really love a shower..he told me he is still on methadone...he needs support, he is at his bottom..

My hope is that tomorrow morning the man on the other side of that desk recognizes that this man is some Mothers son...and hopefully can offer him hope... all I could do was give him my last five dollars from my pocket so he could have something to eat...sadly it just wasn't enough..

Thanks for listening, I know the doorway he is sleeping in tonight, I'm going to bring him some food and a blanket..a meager offering to make me feel better...that was the saddest thing I've seen in a very long time.. I worry for his life..

Thanks for letting me share fellow heart is very heavy.

The plan Gregor had to end homelessness is not working...I saw the proof today.

I want to add this to my previous post about my homeless friend...

Insite is one of the agencies that has used this man for political gain over the years.

The reason this man is not in a shelter or in the DTES right now is because he said it will kill him being so close to the drugs and influences...sleeping on the street is healthier for him right messed up is this system!!

Where is the treatment and housing part of the 4 pillars program?

George, bless you.

I am so angry when I see the amount of money and effort spent on 'studying or solving the problem' and yet I too see people who are still living on the street year after year.

A shelter mat or a door way is not housing. When I heard the dollars involved to keep someone in a HEAT shelter for a month, I was almost sick. Something like $2,000 per person?

What could the Union Gospel Mission do with that sort of money?

The plan to end homelessness is not working because it does not recognize what the problem actually is.

The huge amount of nonprofits in this City who have absolutely no interest in getting people off drugs, getting treatment for mental health problems,etc.They'd be out of a job.

Housing active drug users doesn't end their addiction, it just gives them another place to cause a problem in and probably get evicted.Most active drug users (I've met many) have had many,many homes. The road downwards can be very fast, or very slow.

In the 1970's I could have got a loved one into a treatment centre in about 1-2 weeks.Sometimes a bed would be available that day!
In the 1990's we had to help someone go to the States because it was going to be a couple of weeks here.

I've heard that there are far less treatment beds than in the 1970's.

And we all know how our governments have rushed to replace the Riverview beds that were axed.

Not all people will survive addiction/mental health problems but ALL people deserve a chance at treatment.

I'll never forget the time I was called by a friend about the new ministry 'idea' of in home detoxing of addicts.

No thank you, I do not want to detox a coke addict in my home was my reply.

That is what a detox facility is about. Medical supervision.

Hope your friend can find a place to live that supports him in his recovery.

Hi George:

I saw the Inisite story on the news.

Another issue is that the PHS runs low or no brrier shelters, so residents at the SRO's or hotels they are charged with running can bring drugs in. I don't know if you remember, but a short time ago there was another story on the news, somewhat similar to your friend, where a little older lady was sleeping in the streets for the reason of the rooming houses/hotels being drug infested and she didn't want to stay there. She opted for the street.

Still not a word on Jang's other social housing experiment - the Bosman Hotel on Howe street. But again, I think it is also being run by the PHS.

I still think a treatment centre like Lorne Mayencourt's Baldy Hughes is an idea all levels of government should take a hard look at. They have had proven success in treatment. Part of that success is due to the fact that the centre is situated out of town, and participants are not allowed to travel to town. People that have attended stated this was why they hit success.

Having detox beds and treatment centres in the DTES, in the heart of the problem, is like holding an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a liquor store.

It makes no sense.

Yet, the advocates push to keep these people in their 'enviornment' - say it is their right to live in the DTES where they have access to 'help' and everything else.

Morning Max, Julia, Chris (one of many)

Thank you all for your kind words.

I've just come back from looking for my friend.. can't find him... hope he is on his way to either food or his appointment...

All of your comments are right on the mark... The fact that a great deal of this problem is about MONEY and REAL ESTATE for some of the non-profits.

Yes chris it is about "jobs for the workers at non profits" can be sure that they don't want what I know to become public...

There are abuses going on in the system that are being condoned... during the Olympics building spree it was incredible... this man was a hot commodity then, as he was a hard worker!!

His demise has been since the Olympics building spree.....when he wasn't any use any more. I was a witness to the was election time. Not one person would listen..they just exploited him.

It is all about "FUNDING" and the buzz word at the time was provincial housing money. The whistle blowers were silenced...

Think about these things when it comes time to vote, these are issues that need to be addressed... we need treatment not enabling.

It is not a human right to stick a needle in your is a bad choice.
The shame is that anyone would enable it, just to earn their paycheck in my humble opinion..

There are several very good non profits in this city, but you can be sure they aren't the ones getting the big funding bucks...

George, you're a good man.

The failure over homelessness is the greatest misdeed of Gregor and Vision - and yes there is plenty more guilt to go to others too. So many promises followed by three wasted years, with nothing much to show but self serving opportunist spin. If it were actually possible to tally up the needless suffering directly resulting from their mishandling of this tragedy and make the people of this city understand and care, I don't think any of them would be able to show their smug faces in public again.

I agree George, I am a big supporter of the UGM and Salvation Army.

I still believe the Province needs to do a complete forensic audit on all that is the DTES. Yes, it will take time and cost money, but as we are spending over $1M a day in the area - a 10 block radius, I think it would be well worth the dollars in the end.

The services need to be identified and streamlined.

I have to admit, when I found out the PHS was union I just shook my head. And when I read that the hotels they ran allowed coninuted drug use, I was gob-smacked.

The artile was in the Van Sun (or maybe the Province) and was with a series of article on the DTES. This was to do with the one of the hotels they look after.

I have to say, I am very happy they did not get the Olympic Village cotnract. What a mess that would have been.

George, I know which program your friend was involved with, the trades program offered to residents in the DTES to build the Oly Village. (Discussed on this site previous) As part of that program, they should have been offered housing in the Village.

Actually Max it was another program indirectly part of the trades program..

I have always been very clear, I am willing to be deposed..I kept documentation. I am not alone..

If this man dies... you'll hear me screaming from rooftops!!

I have "publicly" spoken on his behalf before. I have no problem standing in a court of law and doing it again!!

I welcome it.

Actually Julia, the amount is now listed at $2,250/person/month.

In one of the article I read, one of the shelter participants suggested that the Province give the housing portion of Welfare over to the shelter operators. Makes sense.

Another stated that he would not move into an SRO as it is too claustrophobic and he would end up back on the street selling drugs.

As stated by Tristan Markle of Vanact!

“Mayor Robertson won power on the backs of the poor and working-poor, promising to make Vancouver affordable and to end homelessness. But the City is becoming less affordable every day, and the numbers of homeless are only increasing. We need a big change."

I see BOB is offering training for baristas - training at Salt Spring Coffee Co and to work in a new coffee shop - W2?

an astounding amount of money.

I am sure the homeless themselves could offer the best solutions and identify the biggest leeches.

shameful that it happens at all and shameful that we accept useless solutions.

George... 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.'


Think of BOB as an umbrella... there are many spokes that hold up the fabric..

Julia, thank you again, there are many with stories to tell... my hope is that they come forward..

I was fortunate, Alex G Tsakumis saved my life. I knew too much, I was suicidal with the emotional beating I took. He believed in me, and my story...

Politics is a blood makes people corrupt. Sadly power comes on the backs of the poor..

Time for the poor and downtrodden to be heard... they know exactly what is and has been going on.

Sadly the organizations go to great lengths to create situations and push buttons to make the whistle blowers look as if they are the problem...and hope they go away...having that much power over people's lives is a very unhealthy balance..

Considering Salt Spring Coffee Co. is one of Vision's green initiatives....supposedly they wooed them to Vancovuer, but I believe the realtionship is other than just that...

George, you don't have to tell me about the issues the so called 'advocates' create. That is the reason I left volunteering. It was very political and I just got sick of it. When you are working in the area day to day, it is very easy to get swept up. I met a lot of very nice ladies at the shelter and think of them often.

I will say lot of the ladies did get into housing, which is a good thing. But there are those that have problems and get kicked out on a more or less regular basis.

I am very glad that Alex helped you George.....:) You are a good soul!


It is organizations and politicians that are the problem.. the Olympics and rush for funding perks caused mayhem.

I didn't get involved with advocates, as you've witnessed I have a strong voice...

As for the Batista program that has been around for years, originally offered through the youth organization at Fraser and Broadway. They were using Starbucks coffee a few years ago.

Located where the current shelter exists...the one that had Libby Davies out advocating for shelter funding last week...where they are building the affordable housing that has a stir component for youth...perhaps there is a connection there?

George, is that the 95 units for Native youth at risk plus rental (market I think)?

Yes it is... see what happens when the dots start to get connected..

I went to a city sponsored workshop called
"Developing a Culture of Prevention"
I was the ONLY person in the room who didn't work for a non-profit.

It was an astonishing day.
All I heard was: we need more money.
We hate the cops.
We want drugs legalized.
I have never seen so many agendas in one location.

Didn't hear hardly anything about prevention.
Oh, yes Insite was loudly lauded.

A person who makes very,very good money( from taxpayers) told me that police shouldn't arrest drug dealers because it's hard on the drug dealers family.

Needless to say, I didn't go to any further workshops.

The non-profit stranglehold on the DTES must be broken.
People like you (who know the truth) are a big part of the solution.

Check out!

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