Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


This morning I received an email from Michael Meneer who was Peter Ladner's communications director during the recent municipal election. Mr Meneer had recently visited San Francisco and had a brief encounter with a homeless man there. Michael has written about his experience on his blog www.michaeljmeneer.blogspot.com

Michael suggests using 311 (proposed new communications system for the City of Vancouver and which other major cities have adopted) as one tool to be used regarding homelessness.

Michael Meneer's suggestion is germane to the discussion around homelessness since many citizens are concerned about this issue. In fact it is the number one issue on their minds. Citizens often come into contact with our homeless population and there isn't much information out there which they can access on this matter. Therefore Michael's suggestion of using the 311 system is a good one since it can be easily accessed by the public.

During our recent cold snap, communication regarding homelessness was sent out via the Extreme Weather Shelter System. The Extreme Weather Shelter operation is provincially funded and shouldn't be confused with Gregor's Shelters. They open up temporary spaces during extreme weather.

The Extreme Shelter announcements about which homeless shelters were operating was entirely based on weather patterns.

During the past week, the Extreme Shelter system sent out communiques announcing shelter closures based on weather forecasts. The problem here is that weather forecasters got it wrong about the weather. Sadly due to this mis-communication, as a result there wasn't enough shelter spaces open for our homeless. A day later the Extreme Weather system reversed their earlier decision and sent out another communique announcing shelters would be open at least until Jan 3, 2009. On yet another day, they sent out an announcement at 1:30pm informing which shelter beds were open that night.

This system of whether shelters are opened based on weather forecasting and the means of getting this information out to the public is seriously flawed and therefore the Meneer suggestion to combat homelessness is a good one. It will need to be incorporated though into a comprehensive strategy which we currently don't have.

Of course, the new Vision group at City Hall has been luke-warm to the 311 system and may quite possibly gut it.

The 311 system was the brainchild of just-released Vancouver City Manager Judy Rogers so its implementation is already on shaky ground.

As readers may recall Vision did not have confidence in Ms Rogers abilities even though Ms Rogers worked for the City for two decades serving the last ten years as City Manager.

If Vision sinks 311 this will be the second major mistake since assuming office in December.

The first mistake of course relates to our recent weather and the inadequate response in getting streets, bus stops and alleyways cleared for garbage collection.

This lack of due care really hurt our fragile population like seniors and the disabled who found it impossible to get out to medical appointments or shopping for groceries.

If Vision wants to maintain the public confidence, they will need to act more responsibly. Whether they move ahead with the 311 system will be their next big test. I hope they don't blow it.

Jamie Lee Hamilton


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