While Vancouver has consistently been named the most livable city in the world, if you turn the corner, you will be confronted with a neighbourhood that is quite the opposite.
But the problem isn`t confined to Vancouver`s Downtown Eastside. Neighbourhoods throughout the city are scattered with homeless people, and the problem continues to grow. Homelessness has become such a major issue in Vancouver that it can’t be addressed without a co-ordinated effort between municipal and provincial governments, as well as those who deal with the issue at the ground level – those who know about addiction.
Addiction is central to the homelessness theme. Without addressing the constant need among these people for crack and heroine – two of the most common drugs on Vancouver`s streets – there can`t be progress in dealing with homelessness. Billions of dollars have been spent on addressing homelessness, and this money has been well-used to provide food, shelter and clothing for the needy homeless. But even with these supports, addiction continues to ruin many people`s lives.
Approximately 600 homeless people were documented in 2002, according to “Vancouver Aims to End Homelessness” (par. 5). But by March 2011, 1,600 were tallied. City of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robinson promised when he was elected that he would end homelessness, and the city currently has the goal of year 2015 to provide all of Vancouver`s needy with food and shelter. In fact, City staff have indicated the addition of 3,650 shelters and in October 2011, 1,700 units were already being constructed, says “Vancouver Aims to End Homelessness,” (Par. 2).
However, according to a City report that documented the use of a section of new housing units, only 144 of 388 shelters were being used, states “Vancouver Aims to End Homelessness,” (Par. 9), indicating the need isn`t in the amount of government funding that is being used to provide for the homeless. Rather, the need is in dealing with addiction at its source.
United States-based Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless Neil Donovan said funding needs to be one element of the overall package. The other is consulting people at the ground level, such as the homeless.
“There are these continuous barriers that are in our way of addressing the problem, and those include people with the belief that they know what the answer is. Communities that have these types of plans to end homelessness usually never include homeless people,” (Vancouver Aims to End Homelessness [Par. 13]).
The City’s 2005 “Homeless Action Plan” is a prime example of how the government doesn’t get to the heart of the problem. Many of the statistics in the report are taken for what they are at the surface. For example, the document states that in 2005, approximately 500-1,200 people are left without shelter in Vancouver (Davidson and Lee 1). What the report doesn’t say – and would have if those living on the streets were consulted – is many of the homeless don’t want to live in the shelters because they are more concerned about getting a fix. A City report that was released six years later, as outlined earlier in the “Vancouver Aims to End Homelessness” example, indicated only 144 of 388 new shelters were utilized (Par. 9). If, in 2005, researchers had investigated on the streets, they would have learned many of the homeless don’t want to use shelters, and money that was used for constructing the 1,700 shelters would have been saved.
When the City describes in their report the process by which the information is gathered, it references the use of a “consultant.” No further information is given about who this consultant is, and no indication about their involvement in homelessness is given. Much of the information gathered relied on existing reports despite an increasing homelessness trend in Vancouver.
The City also conducted in the report a public consultation with “stakeholders” (Davidson and Lee 4). These people, however, were government officials who have read the books on homelessness, rather than consulted those living on the streets. The report is essentially a high-brow futile attempt to give the impression to the public that something is being done, and no street-level grind-work was accomplished or even attempted.
Four short paragraphs of the 66-page report discuss addiction and mental illness. Plans for “expanded addictions services, including sobering facilities, withdrawal management, treatment and supportive housing,” (Davidson and Lee 7, 8) are all outlined in the report. Since the 2005 release of the report, the city has initiated safe injection sites, which help control the transfer of HIV/AIDS and other transmittable diseases. It does not, however, deal with the deadly cycle of addiction.
A man such as Jim Green, who died in February, would have accomplished much in the mayor’s chair – and he ran for office and lost, twice, according to “A boisterous Voice for Vancouver’s Poor Falls Silent,” (Par. 3). Green helped the homeless find housing, food and jobs. He was a force in Vancouver’s homeless scene. But like the other campaigners, Green didn’t have much money and was unable to fund his mayoral campaign. A divide exists between elected officials and those with no money. Without the means by which a person can pay to make themselves known and, therefore, voted into office, a person like Green – someone who could really make a difference – stands little chance of having a voice to help control Vancouver’s homeless issue. Green, however, was elected to city council in 2002 but was better skilled as a negotiator with developers than a lobbyist, says “A Boisterous Voice for Vancouver’s Poor Falls Silent,” (Par. 23).
While addiction plays a huge role in the number of homeless, there are some who are not addicted. In March 2011, during the City of Surrey’s 24-hour homeless count, organizers noted 56 homeless individuals with children in Metro Vancouver, according to “Rise in Homeless Metro Vancouver Families Alarming,” (Par. 2). The statistic is the largest-ever recorded number of children in the annual homeless count. The majority of the children were younger than 12 – five were younger than one year old – and organizers counted a total of 397 youths who were younger than 25. The same count revealed more than 200 seniors, and nearly half were without a home for more than a year.
These findings say there are issues outside of just addiction that need to be addressed: Twenty-five per cent of the youths who were surveyed said they were homeless as a result of a B.C. government decrease to youth services. And many of the seniors said in 2002 that rather than addiction, many were homeless because they were evicted. In 2011, however, many seniors said they were homeless because their rent was too high or their income was too low, “Rise in Homeless Metro Vancouver,” (Par. 6). This is a likely consequence of increasing housing costs throughout Metro Vancouver, despite a dwindling job market.
But with addiction as the overarching issue, it needs to be dealt with first, and the number of children and seniors who are on the streets will likely also diminish if addiction is managed. This is because many of the children are born into addiction, while many seniors are evicted because of addiction-related issues such as inability to pay rent.
In order to deal with homelessness, it is important to work from the ground up. Funding is available, but it should be used to augment the efforts of individuals who are attempting to help the addicted homeless. Ending the cycle of addiction will almost eliminate homelessness in Vancouver. Many of those who are addicted likely want to be saved – 98 per cent of homeless who were asked said they would choose a home over living on the streets, states “Rise in Homeless Metro Vancouver Families Alarming,” (Par. 10).This dispels the myth that homeless people live on the streets because they want the lifestyle. Saving them isn’t accomplished by facilitating drug use by providing food, shelter and clothing. Instead, a ground-level approach that matches individual homeless with a professional that can help the addicted through monitored detox could end the vicious cycle. Once sober, these individuals should be matched with jobs and their finances monitored by a professional who can help with budgeting. Because no matter how many homes are built, mouths fed, and backs clothed, addiction will continue to control the lives of this troubled cross-section of society.
The City of Vancouver has an opportunity as the most densely-populated homeless area in North America to set an example for the rest of the nation and even the world. A fix to the homeless issue in Vancouver would bring hope to other communities suffering the same consequences of addiction. Though solving the crises at home will seem like a drop in the bucket to a larger problem, one drop can populate gallons
Berg, Nate. “Vancouver Aims to ‘End’ Homelessness.” The Atlantic Cities 24 Oct. 2011. Web. 7 March, 2012.
City of Vancouver. Housing Centre. Homeless Action Plan Vancouver: 2005. Web.
Crowhurst Lennard, Suzanne H. Livable Cities Observed: A Source Book of Images and Ideas for City Officials, Community Leaders, Architects, Planners and All Other Committed to Making Their Cities Livable. California: Gondolier Press, 1995. Print
Hawthorn, Tim. “A Boisterous Voice for Vancouver’s Poor Falls Silent.” The Globe and Mail 28 Feb. 2012. Web. 7 March, 2012.
Sinoski, Kelly. “Metro Vancouver to Direct $11 Million towards Homeless.” The Vancouver Sun 29 Feb. 2012. Web. 12 March, 2012
Sunderg, Alice and Susan, Papadionissiou. “Rise in Homeless Metro Vancouver Families Alarming” The Vancouver Sun 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 7 March, 2012