"Everyone will play homelessness politics, that’s the nature of the game" – Kerry Jang (photo: Vancouver Sun)
It’s been a day since Metro Vancouver released their preliminary results on the number of homeless living in the region. During that period I’ve been monitoring quite carefully how this “news” is being reported in the mainstream media. With a few notable exceptions, many of them seem to have bought into the arguments put forward by Vancouver's Mayor. He claims that major progress has been made to “reduce homelessness.”
It’s hard not to feel awkward talking about homeless people in the context of a bunch of cold, dry statistics. That’s because behind all of those numbers are many lost souls who are drug addicted, mentally ill or both.
Since 2008, the overall number of people without homes in Vancouver has gone up by about 2%. Meanwhile, the total number of homeless people who now sleep on mats in church basements has dramatically risen by 82%. According to officials, the number of homeless youth has also increased by a staggering 29%. These are not stats anyone should be shouting about from the rooftops.
If there is good news in yesterday's report it is that we're no longer seeing dramatic increases in the rate thanks to housing coming online. Since April 2008, 1,457 new social and supportive housing units secured by the previous city councils in partnership with the Province of B.C. have opened. That means over 1,400 homeless in Vancouver now have homes, yet the overall number of homeless hasn't changed a bit.
If you believed Mayor Gregor’s version of events (and many do), you would be left with a very different impression of what’s actually transpiring out there. Despite the numbers showing an overall increase in the number of homeless people, Robertson was telling the media and tweeting out that significant progress was being made to tackle the problem. It’s the kind of spin he desperately needs re-printed if he doesn’t want the issue of homelessness to become his Achilles' heel during the campaign.
Meanwhile over at the CBC, Mayor Gregor’s hapless Minister of Housing Kerry Jang, was trying to defend Vision Vancouver’s homelessness record. He was defending the fact that Vision campaigned on a pledge to end homelessness by 2015, then inserted the word “street” after the election on their website.
Jang was being grilled by Stephen Quinn, host of the popular On the Coast program. Here is transcript of part of the interview whereby he seems to admit Vision did an about face on their campaign commitment:
QUINN: When Mayor Gegor Robertson was elected he promised to end homelessness by 2015 and shortly after that he said actually he meant street homelessness.
JANG: (laughs under his breath).
QUINN: If you convince the final 145 unsheltered people to go into shelters by the next homeless count will he have solved the homelessness problem?
JANG: First thing you have to do is set a goal. That’s what leadership is. If you don’t set a goal, you’ll never achieve it. Cause then, you know what are you aiming for. We said let’s end street homelessness. Why did we pick street homelessness? People ask that question all the time.
QUINN: You actually picked homelessness first then amended it to street homelessness. There is a big difference.
JANG: Why did we amend it to street homelessness? Because good public health policy said you start with the most vulnerable. These are the people living on the street.
QUINN: But no one ever announced that you were changing the goal posts. You simply just amended it in all the documentation to add the word street.
JANG: Well no our staff were very clear. When we talked it over with our staff and our partners and people in the health professions they said start with the street homelessness because these are the people living on the street and they are in the most danger. So that’s where we went. It’s simple public health.
QUINN: Why does this have to be about who did what when. Why can’t you say the last council did a good thing? The NPA dominated council did a good thing when it struck a deal with the province to set aside these sites to work with non-profits to get stuff built. Why does this have to turn into political grandstanding every time?
JANG: I don’t think I’ve turned it into political grandstanding. I did acknowledge this at first that having the land set aside was a good thing. And uh, for us it’s simply public health. That’s all I’m looking at. I mean everyone will play politics around it, that’s the nature of the game…
I’m not sure what shocks me more. The fact Vision wants us to believe they actually campaigned to end “street homelessness” by 2015, or the fact they changed their website sometime last year and added the word “street” in front of the word homeless.
Had the Canucks lost the game last night and the city not so afflicted with hockey fever, I have no doubt the homeless survey would have made front page headlines. Unfortunately for the Mayor and his Vision party who are desperately trying to help re-write the narrative for the fall campaign, their good news pronouncements are getting bumped off the front pages.
And it's not getting better anytime soon. Once the NHL playoffs are over, we will move straight into the HST referendum then take a much needed break over the summer.
It’s very clear to me after reviewing the data released yesterday by Metro Vancouver that Mayor Gregor will not be meet his campaign pledge to end homelessness by 2015. It is likely, however, that he will have succeeded in sweeping the homeless off the street and into costly shelters [some can run at $2000 per month per person]. For the sake of our homeless people, let's hope that out of sight doesn't mean out of mind.