Saturday, December 20, 2008


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


After being out on Thursday night bearing witness to the rampant homelessness happening in our City, it was eerily spooky finding out three hours after I returned home that a homeless woman named Tracey had burned to death trying to stay warm.

From my observations, I can't fathom what the hell is going on. Here we have a Mayor who made homelessness his key issue and no one seems at the civic level to be steering the ship on this issue.

For example when I was at the WISH wellness Centre last night, I was alarmed to discover that they still only open four hours a night and close at 10 pm. This even though WISH was successful in receiving one million dollars from Vancity Credit Union. Why do they not have core funding so this place of refuge can be open overnight?

I was further troubled when I spoke with two women at First United Church who had been at WISH earlier but had to come to First United and wait another hour until the all-female shelter at the Lifeskills program opened at 11 pm.

So here we are with one women's shelter closing at 10 and the other one not opening until 11pm and I don't understand why. Surely one of these groups operating these programs can either stay open an extra hour or open one hour earlier. Because there is lack of coordination between the agencies, these poor sick women I encountered had to travel outside in the sub zero temperatures to three different locations before they could finally bed down on a mat for the night.

What makes this above scenario really pathetic is that the various groups receive city funding and all have in place very well paid Executive Directors. You would think there might be better communication between them considering the majority of their funding goes to pay handsome administrative salaries.

As I mentioned previously the new Mayor has set up this Homelessness Emergency Action Team (HEAT) and they can't seem to figure out what the heck they are doing either.

In fact I just learned today that one of Mayor Robertson's appointments to the HEAT team, who is another well paid Executive Director in the Downtown Eastside has sent out a communique to people requesting them to assist her in securing $40,000 (unrelated to HEAT or supposedly so) so her group can open some private building which she plans to convert to an SRA (single room accommodation).

The kicker here though in this story is that she wants to entice 12 elder women who are already living in an SRO (most likely one of the buildings that she operates) and relocate them to this new private dwelling which will cost $40,000 in construction and conversion renovations.

And here we are with this homelessness crises and someone on Mayor Robertson's team wants to divert scarce resources away from emergency homelessness measures to some pet project of hers.

Is it any wonder that the Downtown Eastside is in such dire straits when you find out what is really going on here. All these terrific salaries and yet rampant dismal conditions remain for our less fortunate citizens in our City. This is such a shame.

Although I don't wish to paint a wide brush claiming that executive directors are the problem, in fact we have many fine outstanding leaders, like Mark and Liz of the Portland Community Services who run some pretty amazing programs in the Downtown Eastside.

Unfortunately the Downtown Eastside has now become one huge poverty industry which creates endless amounts of jobs for the middle class to manage the poor and where has this gotten us? Moreover, how did we get to this place in the first place?

I also think while our new Mayor and the province are fumbling about, listening to focus groups, nobody seems to be in charge of steering the ship or coordinating humane responses to the spiralling out-of-control homelessness tragedy in our City.

Until such time as strong decisive political leadership emerge, the homeless situation will get far worse before it gets better.

Until political pressure is brought and until leaders get their act together and stop shovelling endless amounts of funding into an area with a host of major problems and until we place tight controls on this parasitic poverty industry nothing much will change.

Years of neglect and gutless politicians, using opinion polls and focus groups to set policy, instead of taking a principled political stand - thus creating the hunting grounds for perverts like the ilk of Mr Pickton has gotten us to where we are now.

Women fed to pigs, homeless citizens burning to death and and our poor being given cold floors and hard wooden pews as substitutes for beds--this is what we are inviting the world to see come 2010.

Terrific legacies aren't they?

Jamie Lee Hamilton