Were Judy Graves' claims that Gregor Robertson has reduced homelessness accurate?
**Dear Readers, due to a web server update we have had to restore Sean's post without the comments. We've posted a backup of that post with the comments here.
On Friday May 6, I attended the British Columbia Leadership Prayer Breakfast, billed as a non-partisan, non-denominational fellowship for political leaders from across the province.
The guest speaker was City employee Judy Graves, someone revered in Vancouver for her tireless, dedicated work on behalf of the homeless and city's downtrodden. Ms. Graves is universally praised across all party lines, as close to Sam Sullivan as Gregor Robertson, as chummy with Rich Coleman as Mike Farnsworth. Peter Ladner even wrote a song about her, called "Angel of Broken Wings."
So, I was particularly eager to hear her speak. But the remarks I heard her make that morning surprised me. After sharing two extremely touching stories illustrating the depth of need she encounters daily on the streets of our city, Ms. Graves announced she had good news to share with everyone.
"For the first time ever in a North American city, homelessness is down!" she exclaimed.
Ms. Graves then went on to tell the assembled MPs, MLAs, mayors, councillors and cabinet officers that the reason homelessness is down in Vancouver is because a courageous Mayor named Gregor Robertson ran for office in 2008 promising to end homelessness by 2015. She concluded by exhorting us to support those leaders who were taking such courageous stands.
With all due respect, however, the facts are otherwise. Homelessness is not down. In fact, according to the City's own 2010 homeless count, "the number of people without housing in the city has increased by 12 percent over the past two years."
No matter how it's spun, more people are homeless in Vancouver under this Mayor than the last.
Under the leadership of Vancouver's previous Mayor Sam Sullivan, the City secured commitments of more than 2000 units of social and supportive housing through an unprecedented partnership with the Province. And the mayor before him, Larry Campbell, also managed to net commitments for approximately 600 units of housing from Victoria, and get shovels in the ground during his term.
As for Mayor Robertson's record on housing? His most significant action on social housing since taking office was to eliminate half the promised social housing in the Olympic Village. The sad reality is that he may become be the first Vancouver mayor to actually reduce the city's planned commitments for building social housing.
So what was Ms. Graves talking about at the prayer breakfast? I believe she was making reference to shelters. There are now more temporary shelters open, at the extraordinary cost of $2000 per person per month. They save lives in the coldest months, but we all understand that a temporary shelter is not a home.
Sadly, a person sleeping in a shelter is still homeless. And when they're tossed out again into the cold early-morning rain, no amount of spin or prayer can change that simple fact.
Contrary to Ms. Grave's hagiographic praise, Mayor Robertson has not delivered on his signature promise to end homelessness in the four years remaining of his pledge. Instead he has offered up temporary solutions to systemic problems, shuttling the homeless off the streets at night into provincially-funded temporary shelters in what at times seems a kind of cynical shell game – out of sight, out of mind.
This Mayor exploited the homelessness crisis to win the last election. Yet the situation has grown worse on his watch, and the homeless he once championed are left instead without a home, a hope or a prayer.
- Post by Sean Bickerton. Sean is a candidate seeking the council nomination for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA). If you're an elected official or candidate seeking a nomination and want to write about urban issues, please send your 450-500 word submission to CityCaucus@gmail.com.