CHRONIC HOMELESSNESS and the CITY'S RESPONSE
CHRONIC HOMELESSNESS and the CITY's RESPONSE
Downtown Eastside Activist calls for MORATORIUM on NONSENSE
Should the City of Vancouver enact a demolition moratorium on unsafe and substandard SRO (Single Room Occupancy) accommodation as the Pivot Legal Society and Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA) along with Councillor Tim Stevenson are requesting they do?
It is absolutely obscene that these two groups, along with Councillor Tim Stevenson, are lobbying City Council to maintain this type of Ghetto Housing. Poor people should never be expected to live in unsafe and haphazard conditions because of social, economic and environmental circumstances beyond their control. Yet this is exactly what many misguided affordable housing activists are demanding.
Repeatedly, we see individuals who have re-located onto the streets and parks rather than live in unsafe and dangerous Single Room Accommodation units. Trying to escape the bleakness and hopelessness, of this style of living, many of Vancouver's neediest citizenry, with little other option, instead throw themselves onto the mean streets. If you speak with these citizens, they often express that they feel safer sleeping on the streets, alleyways, public parks and entrances to businesses than the fleabag, rundown and often beyond repair SRO's they are held in. Understanding that these are not reasonable choices for our poorer citizens or acceptable community standards must prevail in our thinking.
We can start as a first step by recognizing Homelessness not to be a Constitutional Right as some misguided policy makers and social housing activists, regrettably now proclaim.
These individuals who we witness with increasing regularity on our streets have extreme hardship and need to be housed in a safe, supportive, and semi-independent environment. They are often referred to as the chronically homeless. These citizens often have drug or alcohol problems, mental health issues or are coping with multi-social-barriers which makes independent living, extremely difficult. Moreover, they do not co-exist well with dangerous predators, including the bed bug and rodent populations which now inhabit many of the SRO's in the DTES.
A year or so ago, I was aghast when a DTES housing agency, built structures which literally were similar to Dog Houses and this group proudly showcased them to the media, saying this was an acceptable and alternative form of housing for the poor and homeless. Can you imagine, any agency with government funding even proposing this? Yet this shouldn't be surprising considering a year before that, this same group said they would house people in locker rooms in the basement of one of their buildings. These structures you could best describe as Cages.
And from Cages to Doghouses, what next?
Well hopefully, our policy makers will not bend to the less than suitable ideal being proposed by Pivot, DERA, Councillor Tim Stevenson and Vision Vancouver. The City of Vancouver policy makers must also recognize that crumbling SRO's are not Landmarks as Pivot claims nor are they the answer to housing the chronically homeless. Councillor Tim Stevenson's motion actually is an affront to poor people and a forward thinking society. It must be rejected. Instead of his moratorium on SRO demolition, perhaps we should enact a Moratorium on Nonsense.Policy makers need to address the chronically homeless issue from a new perspective. It will take innovative thinking, guts and a committment to build a style of housing not yet seen in Vancouver.
Assisted Living Homes for the chronically homeless which provide a link to Living Independence is an ideal model we can strive for. These basic comfort units can be smaller than typical social housing units, but all must have a window to allow light. A toilet and sink as part of the unit should also be mandatory. Of course, this style of home if only 100-200 sq ft must have suitable amenity spaces including kitchens where residents can socialize and cook meals.
Vancouver City Council must now plan to eradicate chronic homelessness in time for 2010. Council, tomorrow's hope is today's action. Please get moving!
Jamie Lee Hamilton