Friday, June 19, 2009


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


Back in December 2008 when Vancouver's new Mayor embarked on a hastily put together plan to open 3 temporary shelters which were actually run-down shacks. I took it upon myself to visit these places and wrote about the potential problems within them.

Mayor Robertson called them low-barrier shelters which is a code word for flophouse. The guests of the shelters were given free reign to do as they wished. There was no rules or regulations. There were no structures put in place and I suspected quite shortly that Gregor's shelters would become problematic.

According to the neighbors residing around the Shelters located in the 1400 block of Howe, these problems have become intolerable.

The neighbours complain of open drug dealing and this isn't surprising considering when you create a ready-made-market the parasitic drug pushers will quickly move in. You only need to observe the Downtown Eastside to see this in action. Just look at the United We Can Bottle Depot where traffickers congregate to relieve the drug addicted of their small change from returning bottles. Or look at the Money Mart store on a welfare day and you will see the same problems.

The reasoning behind the opening of Gregor's shelters was that people were homeless and dying on the street. According to the Mayor there wasn't enough stock of affordable housing to properly assist the homeless. The reality though was that these unfortunate souls had major mental health problems including drug addiction and warehousing them would not address these other concerns.

In fact when I was doing my tour of the shelters I found many of the guests had previous homes but due to their circumstances were not able to maintain them.

Councillor Kerry Jang who is the point person for the City on his Worship's shelters articulates that the shelters must remain open because there is not enough affordable housing being built.

The problem here which Mr Jang and his Mayor do not appear to grasp is that many of those taking up residence in Gregor's shelters are former residents of affordable housing. These residents created many problems including drug trafficking or allowing other drug addicts to take over their apartments and turning them into crack shacks and flophouses.

In the last month alone, DERA, a housing provider in the Downtown Eastside has evicted four tenants from one of its buildings for the above mentioned repeated behaviors. These people are now taking up floor space in Gregor's shelters.

Just opening shelters and warehousing people with severe untreated mental health or drug addiction will not solve the problem. Plus it is not humane.

So until the Mayor and his council get a handle on the real issues at play here they will continue spinning their wheels. They will engage in the blame game with other levels of government as they are doing and while this game is played out the affected law abiding residents complaining of unbearable noise and drug trafficking near their homes will receive no relief. In fact both the Mayor and Councillor Jang have gone on record stating this. And the sheltered folks will continue on with their cycle of despair.

Mayor Robertson is caught in a political conundrum. He has to govern on behalf of all the City's residents and this appears to be proving somewhat difficult for him. It is quite a bit different from representing a small rather affluent district like Vancouver-Fairview and lobbying for Cambie Street merchants who had been financially impacted by construction of the new Skytrain line.

The harsh reality is Mayor Robertson is governing in a City with 500,000 residents and we have this huge white elephant in our midst. This white elephant is creating untold hardship and grief for thousands and thousands of citizens including many youth and children.

What ever will Mayor Robertson do?

Jamie Lee Hamilton