CityCaucus Redux: Gregor says "Let's be realistic" about ending homelessness

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

8 comments


Vancouver's Mayor Robertson appears in the sobering documentary 'Streets of Plenty'

Here is the next installment of our CityCaucus.com Redux series. This story originally ran in March 2010 and generated a lot of interest online. It also happens to be one of the few times Mayor Gregor was interviewed without his handlers nearby! Quite refreshing. Hope you enjoy.

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When it comes to the homelessness story in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, most of the media coverage is pretty predictable. The narrative goes something like this. There are thousands of homeless people wandering the streets and not enough is being done to help them. However, Corey Ogilvie, a Vancouver-based filmmaker and the brothers Misha & Alex Kleider (main subject & camera operator of the documentary), are breaking all those conventional rules when it comes to reporting on life in Canada's poorest postal code.

In their documentary that can be seen in its entirety on YouTube titled Streets of Plenty, the viewer is challenged to observe the Downtown Eastside in a very different way. Although there are times when the film feels a bit more like Rick Mercer meets 60 Minutes, it is one of the more interesting takes I've seen on what has clearly become a desperate situation.

The filmmaker and his subject Misha Kleider is trying to get a clear message across to viewers that providing homeless shelters for drug addicted individuals is not going to solve the neighbourhood's drug problems. There are many uncomfortable scenes throughout the film, including one in which a nurse at Insite, Canada'a only supervised injection site, helps Kleider with the mechanics of his first heroin injection.

Through the use of hidden cameras and time-lapse photography, you get to see what life is like in the Downtown Eastside in a way I believe no other filmmaker has captured. It's gritty, inspiring and depressing all at the same time.

In the last few minutes of the documentary, Kleider interviews Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson regarding his take on drug addiction and homelessness:

Misha Kleider: I lived on the streets for almost a month. I tried the hardest drugs out there. Crack, heroin. One thing that became very clear was that addiction is a major cause of homelessness. So if you're going to solve homelessness, you need to solve addiction.

Gregor Robertson: The addiction challenge is very difficult for us. It's a tough one to break. And uh...we're seeing some success now with the shelters and basically saying its okay, you can come in if your still using. You can use these shelters to at least get a good meal and get 8 hours of sleep.

Kleider: But 95% of addiction treatments fail. What's going to happen when you provide all these homeless addicts with free housing? Instead of dying from their addiction on the street, they are going to die from addiction in the free homes that you're giving them. But they are still going to die. That seems like a band-aid and not a solution.

Gregor Robertson: Well it's a band-aid. But if...uh...people are literally dying on the streets you got to look at what pieces you can support them on. I mean if you don't come in with a whole complement of support, then where is the hope? Until you work upstream, until we're working with people and making sure they don't go into that dead end of addiction, it's going to be damage control.

Kleider: Do you honestly think you can end homelessness?

Gregor Robertson: When I say end homelessness or that we...that we...do a lot better on addictions and for treatment. Uh..There is so much more that can be done. Can we ever get all the way there and to utopia? Let's be realistic. It's not going to be like that. We have got to have shelters and housing options that are permissive and that take people from where they are and meet them where they're at.

Kleider: Good Luck.

With the ominous sounds of guitar strings in the background, Kleider looks up in the air, with an exasperated expression in response to Robertson's answers to his questions.

As we reported here previously, the City of Vancouver has "unofficially" abandoned its internationally recognized Four Pillars Drug Strategy since Mayor Robertson was elected in 2008. Donald Macpherson, Vancouver's former Drug Policy Program Coordinator, quit a few months ago in order to work in the private sector. As for the Four Pillars Coalition chaired by the Mayor, it rarely convenes for a meeting. And when it does, the main focus of discussion is on the more politically palatable prevention pillar. Advocates for a second supervised injection site also appear to have given up hope this Mayor will support their request.

I'd recommend Streets of Plenty to anyone interested in knowing more about what life is like in the Downtown Eastside. You may not agree with these filmmaker's take on the situation, but it most certainly provides viewers with a perspective of this gritty neighbourhood that you don't always see in the mainstream media.

8 Comments

In case you think the Mainlander is an open minded blog - they are not. I have tried several times to leave a comment that challenges their facts and they refuse to print it.

We may not always agree with CC but at least they have the courage to allow diverse opinion.

Welcome to my world Julia.Although I cant imagine you saying anything unprintable,or that didnt pertain to the subject.And I have never been denied to voice my opinion at CC either.Knock wood.

After watching this I have to say I was horrified with what happened when he went to insite,she knew this was his first time and at no point did she counsel him to rethink what he was doing,she never once said go have a coffee and think about it,instead she did everything she could to help him step into the abyss of addiction.And as you can see the euphoria of the drug has a profound effect.Almost instantly the pain is gone,physically and mentally.I can only hope he has the strength to deal with what he experienced,because now every time life throws a hurdle in front of him that euphoria will be burned into his mind.That was just wrong on so many levels.

gman

I can certainly understand your shock my friend..The homeless friend of mine I speak of, was given money to buy drugs by PHS, so they could produce print and video material to acquire more funding to further their agenda...
On a better note I had a wonderful conversation with a young woman this week who's step father started an amazing program in Surrey.. a wonderful story of treatment that encompasses all 4 pillars, and then some.
It is a wonderful organization that deserves great recognition..This woman's face glowed when she spoke of this program.. she has seen many success stories and is extremely proud of her father and the organization.

http://www.welcomehomesociety.org/

Hey George,when I was a kid on the street a long time ago it was always the church or private organizations that gave the true help,it seems that as soon as the government gets involved it turns into some mass political employment monster,and I dont want to belittle the many caring people who work very hard in a difficult field but thats why these organizations were given tax breaks in the first place.When I was young I could always go to a church and sleep in the pews but now their locked.Now it seems people feel they paid their taxes and the government should deal with it.I myself am a none believer but have the utmost respect for those that do.I have no idea what the answer is but I do know its not working.

So very true gman..

I must admit I loved this program..it was refreshing to hear of the concept of a hand up...not a hand out...

As the saying goes teach a man to fish..

Hope you are well my friend...

Hey George thanks Ive been well for a long time now but this thing never leaves your mind,after all it is the easy way out.What I would like to see is society taking more responseability for what affects their lives and their neighborhoods like we used too. Another thing I suffered through was the vagrancy laws,as cruel as it seems at least you had to be responsible for yourself.I grew up with cops actually walking the street but actually charging or taking off the street those who were out of control.And that wasnt a bad thing.

gman
I only have a vague knowledge of the vagrancy law, but I believe it made sense.
I'm not from here originally, could you explain to me when the law changed?

I agree with you, there needs to be some accountability for our actions..I think you have a wealth of knowledge to share..

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