When it comes to new housing commitments, so far Vision have got bupkis
This is this week’s column for 24 Hours…
Most people got the message during the 2008 election campaign that Gregor Robertson was the candidate who promised to end homelessness. It’s an issue that polls consistently show is very important to Vancouverites.
In fact, it was the lack of progress on the homelessness file that was cited as one of the reasons for Vancouver Mayor Robertson’s declining public approval rating in 2010.
The issue of homelessness is always thick with politics. Everyone wants to take credit for trying to solve what seems like an unsolvable crisis. Despite not receiving a single new commitment from senior levels of government to finance social housing, Robertson and Vision Vancouver claim that it is their work that is making the difference.
For the sake of the city’s homeless population, I wish it were so.
People say to me that Mayor Gregor’s greatest accomplishment on homelessness has been to create a new category, which he dubs “street homelessness.” It means “people living outdoors.” When Robertson came to office he altered his campaign promise to “end homelessness” by 2015 to ending “street homelessness.”
Adding the adjective “street” was a significant retreat from that original commitment.
The City’s updated focus on moving people living outdoors into shelters made the problem less visible (Robertson brags he reduced “street homelessness” by 50 per cent), but, in reality, Vancouver’s homeless population continues to grow (by more than 12 per cent since 2008). Scarce resources once allocated to building permanent social housing are now diverted into maintaining temporary shelters.
During the previous term of government under Mayor Sam Sullivan, the City hammered out an agreement with B.C. Minister of Housing and Social Development Rich Coleman to build or restore up to 3,813 units of social and supportive housing. The government before that, under Mayor Larry Campbell, also got commitments for social housing. (See a 2008 housing dept. memo for the complete list)
Robertson’s government, however, has received zero commitments from senior levels of government for new social housing.
Long-term solutions to homelessness have been well underway at the city level for years. For example, former city manager Judy Rogers [and adviser to the Premier, Ken Dobell] helped to create the Streetohome Foundation, an innovation to fund social housing through private donors, something that appalled Vision and COPE when in opposition [yet they’re happy to embrace today].
The city also secured federal research dollars to address the scourge of mental illness in the Downtown Eastside, which is the root cause of much of that neighbourhood’s drug use and despair.
If Gregor Robertson is going back to voters for another mandate to solve homelessness, what kind of progress can he show other than housing commitments secured by the NPA, or money generated by Streetohome?
As the mayor cuts the ribbons this year on completed social housing projects, you can bet he and his Vision colleagues will be taking credit for all of it.
That, folks, is just politics.
For more background on the social and supportive housing commitments secured by Vancouver from the provincial government, read this September 2008 CoV memo.
– post by Mike