Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


Yesterday, at Council, the Civil City Commissioner, Geoff Plant, brought forward his six month report. As expected, COPE/VISION Councillors lined up on one side of the report while NPA Councillors lined up on the other side.

VISION/COPE doesn't believe it important to have a Civil City Commissioner. In fact, Vision Councillor, Tim Stevenson, blatantly and quite rudely informed Mr. Plant that his position wasn't necessary.

Mr. Plant highlighted a number of matters which reflect an incivility to our City. He named Drugs, Mental Health, Aggressive Panhandling and Homelessness as key areas that need studying. His plan is to consult with groups and individuals on ways to improve city life.

Heather Deal, Vision City Councillor numerous times went on the offensive and chattered that there is no way or measuring these issues and it wasn't up to Council to determine what is civil and what isn't.

But all you have to do is walk into the Downtown Eastside/Oldtown district and you know something has gone horribly wrong in society. Witnessing the rampant poverty, out of control drug use, increasing homelessness and other associated ills is deeply concerning. How Councillor Deal can claim there is no way of determining civility or incivility is juvenile political thinking.

Living in the area, travelling through it and viewing it on a daily basis, demonstrates that neglect and indifference are key reasons why this area has spiralled into an uncivil mess. As Councillor Peter Ladner correctly pointed out, observing drug users injecting drugs into their necks or allowing an an open air drug market to flourish isn't socially acceptable either. He is right.

Maintaining the status quo where people are badly hurting is not acceptable. In fact, letting the area to fend on its own isn't working. It hasn't worked.

Politicians need to fix things. They relied on the numerous charities, non-profits and other social service groups to manage the problem and if anything a number of these groups may have contributed to the worsening problems down here.

After a decade of neglect, something must be done. Action is long overdue, however, the direction the Civil City project takes will determine whether we see any actual improvement.

The primary goal of the Civil City Task Force as set out by Mayor Sullivan was to envision a 50% reduction in homelessness, drug use and street disorder in time for the 2010 Olympics.

How this 50% reduction is accomplished will be the test.

Putting people in jail or handing out jaywalking tickets will not work. We have already seen this plan in action and it isn't working. Letting the police take care of things hasn't worked. The City over the years, since 1993 , has consistently hired more officers and at one point we had police swarming all over the neighborhood. It didn't make a dent in the incivility.

Another area which was to improve the problems and fortunes in the Downtown Eastside/Oldtown was the introduction of the Four Pillars. Unfortunately, only one pillar, that of Harm Reduction was ever implemented and the other three pillars of Prevention, Treatment and Education were totally forgotten.

If we are to turn things around to ensure a civil society remains intact, we must act now.

Treatment of Drug Users has to become a priority. We can't just sit idly by while as Councillor Ladner points out, people are injecting drugs into their necks. Treatment has to become more readily available. If drug users want help from the social safety net, they must be willing as a condition of receiving welfare to commit themselves to a recognized treatment program.

Prevention is a key area which also needs implementing. Homes must be built which humanely house people. Just renovating 100 sq ft hotel rooms isn't the solution to solving the homeless crises. Trying to live in a 100 sq ft room creates a bleakness and unhappiness where people are forced to escape. They wind up on the streets and become prey for the sadistic predators out there. It's a vicious cycle and we must turn this cycle around.

The Mayor's EcoDensity plan can play a role, however, developers cannot continue to build here, there and everywhere, unless they agree to earmark 30% of their buildings to house people at below market rates. Mayor Sullivan and Council must begin to understand that an Executive class city does not provide a catalyst for change. We need to close the gap, not widen it between the have's and have-not's in our City.

Mr. Plant has taken on a gigantic problem and fixing things will not be easy. While finding benchmarks in order to measure progress will be an almost impossible task. I actually agree with Councillor Deal on this point. Trying to determine the actual numbers of drug addicts, homeless and mentally ill in our city will be extremely challenging. In fact, the only way to measure deliverables may come from community and neighborhood evidence-based outcomes. Hard statistics I suspect will be difficult to come by.

The status quo though isn't good enough and although Mr Plant's appointment was political, I am hoping that his report doesn't become mired in politics.

By 2010 and even before, I believe, we can make a significant turn-around in closing that gap between the affluent and poor in our City. Only then can we truly call ourselves a Civil city.

Are you listening Mr. Plant? Are you listening Mayor and Council?

Jamie Lee Hamilton