Two steps (or should I say decades?) back on homelessness

(Small note: For those less interested in Vancouver and looking for a national story check out my man Taylor’s take on Simpson’s Globe and Mail piece and why Iggy’s policy development process lead to such a strong outcome.)

As for me, I’m feeling frustrated about Mayor Sam Suillivan’s poll on Vancouverites municipal priorities. For anyone who hasn’t visited Vancouver in the last year there is no doubt that homelessness is the number one issue – an observation confirmed by the city’s residents. No big surprise, given the rising cost of housing and a sharply declining number of available low-cost rooms in single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels (those most affordable to low-income residents).

The challenge for the mayor (beyond actually solving the problem) is that it is hard to take his concern seriously. We need only recall that, after taking office, his second act was to reduce the amount of social housing that would be part of the Olympic village development. Moreover, during the debate over Project Civil City he voted down a proposed amendment to include the Minister for Housing on the Mayor’s Civil City Leadership Council. If you were concerned about homelessness and were putting together a team to tackle it, it would seem sensible that you’d want to pull together the relevant stakeholders – especially those with access to resources beyond the meager ones available to the city.

Vancouver is now preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympics without an effective homelessness strategy. Sadly, precedent does not look good. In the lead up to the 1986 World Exposition Vancouver managed a similar problem by simply expelling the homeless from the relevant areas. While the city was ‘clean’ for Expo ’86 the long term consequence was the radicalization of civic politics and damaged relations between city hall and the city’s most at-risk citizens. Combine this municipal approach with a Federal Government intent on treating drug addiction and homelessness as a legal and not a social challenge and you have the recipe for disaster. Be prepared for a new effort to ‘sanitize’ Vancouver – an effort that will almost certainly fray or destroy the social and support networks that help at risk communities and push the problem out to the surrounding communities of the GVRD.

[tags]Vancouver, Vancouver politics, Sam Suillivan, homelessness, social housing, 2010 Olympics[/tags]

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