Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC

The New Homeless Left Out in the Cold

Yesterday, the Premier of BC, Gordon Campbell and the Mayor of Vancouver, Sam Sullivan, announced funding of $80 million toward new housing initiatives with the goal of eradicating homelessness. In fact, we have been informed that the bulk of the $80 million is to acquire SRO's and one assumes the costs to fix them up to safety standards will be significant.

I saw this announcement coming with groups like PIVOT and Dera calling for SRO's to be maintained. Be careful what you wish for and this is exactly what is now happening. Earmarking millions and millions of dollars toward salvaging decrepit SRO's is like throwing away millions of dollars down a sewer.

For some reason, misguided activists in the Oldtown area believe maintaining SRO's is acceptable housing for the poor. They continuously suggest the homeless are the troubled individuals you see on our streets, with their shopping carts overflowing and most likely, suffering with drug addictions.

As I have stated many times, SRO's should never be considered as appropriate social housing for lower income citizens, the disabled or even the drug addicted. History has shown us that this type of accommodation is unsuitable, unhealthy and is actually harmful to the dwellers who are forced to reside in them.

People with drug addictions and those with untreated mental health disorders need specialized care and treatment. Shoving them into SRO's is not the answer.

Quite shocking though is how the Premier and Mayor heeded the call from wrong-headed and ill-informed poverty professionals. I suspect with the acquisition of 10 SRO buildings that our poorest, neediest and most vulnerable citizens in Vancouver, will continue to feel the after effects of this announcement for many years to come.

Putting as many poor people as you can in one area of the city, without appropriate resources, lack of green space, and a non existent economy is akin to creation of a defacto slum. How this assists poor people build economic and social capacity is beyond me.

The only benefactors of the recent announcement will be the agencies chosen to run the SRO's, most likely the Salvation Army, who has already gone on record praising the announcement and Atira, a relatively new player in the Oldtown area. Atira has close ties to PIVOT and will be clamoring to be the designated agency, managing the SRO's. I will soon be writing an expose on Atira.

Of course, from an optics perspective, the ones benefiting will be the two political leaders, who will look good in the public eye. It appears that they are doing something about homelessness, unfortunately, they have chosen to embark on a path of political expediency, rather than addressing homelessness from a integrated, holistic and co-ordinated approach.

But beware of mirages. They are just that and nothing more.

As a result of today's announcement, where all the eggs appear to be placed in one basket, I can guarantee that Vancouver will continue to experience homelessness in expanding numbers as the visible homeless are tucked away in SRO's while the invisible homeless become the new visible homeless.

I'm certain that Premier Gordon Campbell and Mayor Sullivan, genuinely believe that their announcement helps. It certainly ensures Vancouver looks tidy, pretty and welcoming as the world arrives for 2010. What they haven't factored in is that the invisible homeless will soon be on our streets. These invisible homeless, sadly, include many children and youth of homeless parents.

Tragically, these children and youth will be seen with increasing frequency on our streets, as their parents are unable to properly care for or feed them. Many will be orphaned as parents die off as a result of a magnitude of social ills. Similar to the slums of Calcutta, Vancouver will soon bear witness to children begging on our streets and youths selling their bodies for peanuts. Yesterday's announcement of course, doesn't address this glaring fact.

Soon the spotlight will be shone on the new homeless and citizens will be left shaking their heads, as Mayor Sullivan continues to struggle with his vision of a Civil City.

Tragically, for the public, the consequences will shortly, only be to visible too see.

Jamie Lee Hamilton