MAYORAL DEBATE TONIGHT SHOWS STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
MAYORAL DEBATE TONITE SHOWS STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES
The Mayoral debate tonight which was organized and hosted by the faith community at St Andrews Wesley United Church showed different styles between candidates Peter Ladner and Gregor Robertson.
The focus of the debate is Vancouver's worsening homelessness and Mr Ladner and Mr Robertson defined their positions and talked about the underlying issues causing homelessness. I believe the audience really appreciated the candidness of the candidates. We were informed by the moderator, Ric Matthews of First United Church to save our applause until the completion of the Mayoral candidates speeches.
It was obvious that Gregor Robertson is a politician who cares deeply for those on the street, however, I found it quite shocking that he stated his preference to maintain as presented by Francis Bula, the current ratio of 75% non-market vs 25% market housing in the Downtown Eastside neighborhood.
This ratio has had disastrous results on the poor and ghettoizing poverty in this manner is not helpful to the plight of people living in third-world like conditions. My community deserves better than this and we need a healthier influx of residents who are not collecting welfare or disability cheques. But the new inhabitants must be warned that they cannot expect to drive out the less fortunate.
Another area where the candidates seem far apart is on the 4 pillars.
Mr Robertson stated he would like to see injection sites expanded with attached treatment. Mr Ladner expressed his opinion that Health authorities are better equipped to deal with this issue. Mr Ladner went on to state that he hasn't yet seen a study suggesting the need for expanded injection sites.
I agree with Mr Ladner. It is best left up to our health experts to determine medical needs around addiction and drug issues. It is not wise to have our medical matters driven by politics and politicians.
Another question centered on the single room accommodation (SRA) by-law brought in by Councillor Jim Green. It was thought that this by-law would assist in managing the rate of change of single room occupancy (SRO's) but it hasn't been at all helpful. In actual fact, the SRA has exacerbated the situation since it has had an unintended consequence of devaluing properties. In this context, property owners see it as a punitive ideology and not productive to housing the poor.
In one case that I know of, the SRO owner remodelled and upgraded all his rooms to self-contained units which included private bathrooms with a shower and a kitchen with fridge and stove. Moreover, this particular socially progressive owner signed an agreement with the federal government to keep letting the rooms at welfare rates for fifteen years. After the SRA by-law came into effect, his property dramatically tumbled in value.
Gregor Robertson stated he would like to expand the SRA by-law to cover the entire City, however, this may be a bit of grandstanding to make it appear that the SRA by-law will assist in decreasing homelessness. Primarily SRO's are located in the Downtown South and Downtown Eastside areas so it is perplexing why Mr Robertson chose to make this statement.
With the 2010 Olympics coming, civil rights are on everyone's mind. A question was put to both Mr Ladner and Mr Robertson by Tyee reporter Monte Paulson that one of them will chair the police board and what rights are you willing to support or deny?
Both leaders expressed their desire not to violate anyone's rights. Mr Robertson and Mr Ladner state they are opposed to tent cities.
On the subject of policing Mr. Ladner brought forward that Vision Councillor Raymond Louie is calling for the hiring of 127 more police officers which will cost the taxpayer an additional $13 million dollars and it seems that Mr. Robertson needs to immediately address this issue.
$13 million could go a long way to assisting the less fortunate in Vancouver and using money for enforcement of poverty issues seems really wrong.
Finding solutions to the worsening homeless problem in our City must be a priority. While it may take time to build suitable affordable long-term housing, however, in the meantime, we can not allow our homeless to die out on the streets.
Action can be taken now in the short-term to shelter people until the longer-term accommodation is ready.
Vancouver has many city-owned assets and those assets not currently being used or under-utilized should be earmarked for temporary supportive housing.
The 2400 Motel which is a large property on Kingsway which during the winter has many empty rooms and cottages could immediately be drafted into use for our mentally ill. The cottages are similar to the ones formerly used at Riverview. They have washrooms and kitchen units with nice lawns.
I believe using the 2400 as a mini-institute will assist in supporting our most vulnerable citizens.
If there is the political will, there can be positive outcomes. Now is the time for real leadership. This will ensure the City with absolute conviction and pure conscience, can promote itself as one of the most compassionate and best places in the world to live.
Jamie Lee Hamilton