Shelters, homelessness and spin

Mike Klassen is an NPA candidate for council.  Mike Klassen is also a long-time political operative with the BC Liberals and the NPA.  He’s the guy who helped sandbag the province with Colin Hansen (Mr. HST) and sandbag the city with Sam Sullivan.

I bring this up for one reason.  It’s more than a little rich to see a Sam Sullivan political operative like Klassen attack Mayor Gregor Robertson for his success in reducing street homelessness after Sam Sullivan’s comparative failure.

It’s especially rich considering Klassen’s work on behalf of the BC Liberals and former finance minister Colin Hansen, whose welfare, housing and mental health cuts lie at the root of the homelessness explosion in BC.

Klassen calls out Mayor Robertson for focusing on street homelessness in Vancouver, which fell from 786 people in the 2008 homelessness count to 145 in the 2011 count.  That’s a decline of close to 80%.

It’s also the first real progress seen in a decade.

Compare this year’s decline of 80% to Sullivan’s record of a 40% increase in street homelessness and you’ll understand why Klassen is so keen to distract attention from the record of the administration he helped elect.  In 2006 Sam Sullivan and the NPA promised to reduce homeless 50% by 2010.  Instead homelessness – street homelessness in particular – increased.

Klassen claims the term “street homeless” was almost unheard of prior to Mayor Robertson’s use of it.  That’s semantics.  Every homeless count in Greater Vancouver since 2002 has distinguished between residents who have shelter (a homeless shelter or a friend’s couch for example) but are homeless and those who are unsheltered and homeless.

More to the point, the 2008 homeless count focused on the rapid expansion of street homelessness in Vancouver and the lower mainland.

Report recommendations called on politicians to focus on shelter gaps and shelter policies to reduce street homelessness.  As the 2008 Homeless Count report noted, getting people off the street – particularly people with addiction and mental health problems – is a critical first step in a “housing first” program.

And that’s what Mayor Robertson and the Vision council have done.  By any criteria Robertson and the Vision council have been successful where Sam Sullivan, Mike Klassen and the NPA were unsuccessful.

Maybe that’s why Klassen also claims that any success mayor Robertson has had in reducing homelessness should be credited to the NPA.  “Under the leadership of mayor Sam Sullivan and minister of housing and social services Rich Coleman,” Klassen writes “the city and province of B.C. signed memos of understanding that secured thousands of new units of social and supportive housing.”

Except it’s not true.  The NPA’s memorandums of understanding with the BC Liberals were worthless because they were unfunded.  They secured nothing.   The MOUs signed by the NPA called for the funding to be in place by the spring of 2008.  It never happened.

Mindful of the NPA’s failed funding schemes and empty MOUs Robertson and the Vision council took a different approach.  They leveraged the 2010 Olympics to fund shelters and housing projects and the money came through.

In the spring of 2010 the province freed up over $200 million to build more than 1000 units on 8 of the city sites.  That’s on top of the shelter funding the Vision Council secured.

Politicians make a lot of promises:  Sam Sullivan, with Mike Klassen working the backrooms, promised to reduce homelessness by 50% by 2010.  Gregor Robertson promised to eliminate street homelessness by 2015.

My advice?  Trust the numbers, not the promises or the spin.  And, by the numbers Sullivan failed and homelessness went up.  But Robertson and the Vision Council are making progress.  By the numbers, it’s not perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was three years ago.

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6 Responses to Shelters, homelessness and spin

  1. trevor says:

    The numbers are what they are. Best indicator for me was talking to people visiting from out of province who have volunteered the observation that there are fewer people sleeping on BC streets now than when they last were here.

    Ending street homelessness is an important step toward the objective of ending homelessness and you have to give Vision Vancouver, and the leadership in other municipalities like Victoria, credit for making incremental progress. Now for the next step.

  2. e.a.f. says:

    The numbers speak for themselves. Klassen and his “statements” are all part of “the big lie”.
    Robertson has done more for Vancouver than Sullivan ever did.
    Robertson has actually done something about the homelessness–less people are living on the streets of Vancouver. Once people are provided with stable shelter they can address their other issues.
    It doesn’t matter how often people go to rehab, if they have to go back to the streets their problems will return. Living on the streets is enough to drive anyone to drink, drugs, and mental illness. A safe, warm place to live is the first step in people getting their lives together and saving money for the governments.
    It costs a lot more to service people living on the streets than living in safe, secure housing.
    Some people will never be able to live independantly but housing which provides support will reduce human misery and overall health and police costs.

  3. David says:

    Housing can be described as a continuum. Focusing on street homelessness within the spectrum of the homelessness continuum is important. There is still a need for real housing for our poor, who are fortunate enough bit be be street homeless at this time, including our working poor and others in danger of becoming homeless whom a HEAT shelter is not an acceptable choice expect in a crisis situation for a very short term. Warehousing people does not make for good citizens.

  4. David Beattie says:

    Finding single accommodation for the BC Liberal’s welfare allocation of $375 for single people is almost impossible, but when Income Assistance recipients double and triple up, a lot more units are open to them.

    Further, if the $375 “shelter” portion of the monthly $610 welfare cheque is increased by $50, to $425, and then doubled and tripled, literally hundreds if not thousands more doors open, at least potentially.

    A search of Craigslist shows that in the City of Vancouver the number of two-bedroom places for rent for $850 (2 times $425) is about four times as large as it is for $750 (2 times $375), and the number of three-bedroom units for $1,375 (3 x $425) is far greater than it is for $1,125 (3 x $375).

    What would go a long way toward improving housing matters for a potentially large number of people, is an agency of some sort that matches welfare tenants with landlords, and mediates disputes between them. Some welfare recipients find it difficult to find market rental, and there is considerable prejudice against them. A go-between agency could get around a lot of problems.

    If a few score occupants of SROs could be housed in affordable market rental each month, and many of the units within their price range are really quite nice – ground floor suites in single family houses and not dingy basements at all, then some shelter residents can be housed in the SROs that become vacant, and street homeless in turn can be moved into shelters.

    The cost of street homelessness is intolerable to taxpayers, in addition to being cruel and easily avoidable. So, how to get that $50 monthly increase? If welfare recipients were granted the same right as college students, to get Translink monthly passes for $30, as opposed to the $81 they pay now, that frees up $51 right there.

    It is also time for some increase in income assistance rates, even if just $50 or $25 a month in the shelter allocation. The last increase was the $100 shelter increase in 2007. In conclusion, a match-maker between welfare tenants and landlords can find housing for scores of people, and the ripple effects could be profound.

  5. Linda says:

    BC is still bleeding jobs. The two chain restaurants, Mr. Mikes and The Pantry, are closing down. The HST killed them too. Many lost jobs there. Two fabric shops, in my town closed their doors. Mills are installing automation, many more people without jobs.

    The carbon tax, is going up in July. When the hydro hike of 53% hits, combined with the HST. There will be more homeless. There was a sharp rise in homeless seniors, because of the HST. There will be many more, with the hydro up 53%, food costs 15% higher, gasoline prices gouged. Food banks can’t keep up now. It takes every last cent low income people have, to keep a roof over their heads. They too have to rely on the food banks, to feed the family.

    Even with the raise in the minimum wage, BC’s is still the lowest in Canada. BC has a vast wealth of natural resources. There is no damned excuse, for anyone to go hungry in BC. The problem is, Campbell and Harper, have cleaned BC’s resources out. Our assets and resources, have been given to the wealthiest corporations in the world, along with billions of our tax dollars. Harper and Campbell have a very close relationship. They work together, and thieve from the citizens, to give to those greedy outfits. They also are working, to put Canada into the N.A.U. Wikileaks has said, the N.A.U. is on the way. No doubt Campbell and Harper, would love to be big shots, with the N.A.U.

    You may have noticed, Harper pulled a Campbell. Harper promised to fix our health care, when he was campaigning. He promised jobs and said, he would work on the economy. Guess what? None of those promises were met, in the budget. Remind you of anyone? Flaherty has promised more cuts, because Harper has pissed away billions on wars, fake lakes, jets with no engines, ect. Do you think Harper and Campbell give a damn about the homeless, or hungry children, that are unable to do their school work, because of their hunger? Not on your Nelly. The two of them are paranoid, fascists, dictators, thieves and control freaks. This next winter there will be many more homeless, count on it.

  6. RossK says:

    And here I thought the good Mr. Klassen and that other charter member of ‘Spam-A-Lot’, Mr. Fontaine were now supposed to be serious journalists.

    More to the point, right out of the gate, post S-A-L, this pair proved their obfuscatory bonafides when they blamed the then newly elected mayor, Mr. Robertson for….



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