Homelessness Discussion in Victoria

This week I went to a discussion on homelessness facilitated by the Downtown Residents Association. The new police chief Jamie Graham spoke, as did Jill Clements and Charlayne Thorton-Joe from the homelessness coalition, and Ken Kelly from the DVBA. A summary of the talk can be found on Robert Randall‘s website.
Update: Read more on this topic from Yule Heibel‘s blog.
The two representing the coalition – Jill and Charlayne – identified the most systemic breakdowns in support for homeless people. It’s pretty clear that the support system is broken and needs fixing at a high level before it can be effective at a ground level. Another well-documented point that was made last night is that Victoria tends to attract homeless people from all over the province and country due to our climate. This said, it is a relatively small municipality that is paying for a provincial and national issue. The numbers are nowhere close to working, even if the system wasn’t broken down. Anyway, I wont get too deep into the issues as I’m not an expert, but my feeling is that the important cards are not entirely in our hands, yet.
The new Police Chief was really well-spoken. I felt he communicated the challenges that the police face fairly well and in a way that felt appropriately transparent. He was handing out personal business cards and engaging in quite a bit of two-way discussion which is refreshing to see. Clearly the police have their work cut out for them in this city. A city with homeless from across greater Victoria, across the province, and across the nation. And a city where police are divided into various municipality forces. There is multiplication of issues and division of resources. It is a losing combination and Victoria has been losing.
The DVBA representative spoke for a while about the business owners in the area and what they have at stake. I didn’t get much of a point from him beyond that. He spent the remainder talking about parking passes. This is puzzling in two regards – he is talking to people who live downtown, and homeless people generally aren’t looking for a place to park cars so that they can go shopping. I felt that this particular part of the evening did not contribute anything significant to the discussion.
Overall the talk was interesting and the dialogue needed to happen. It was also nice to see the new police chief speak at length about his views and philosophy on policing and the homeless situation in downtown Victoria. I don’t know how to find out what progress the coalition is making, but I’d be interested in keeping up with their findings, recommendations and any actions that local resources are undertaking to change the way the various silos of support work.

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  1. This does seem somewhat insurmountable, doesn’t it? I find that there are many discussions about the problems we, as a society have (everything from homelessness to the environment), but it seems I only hear the causes and symptoms of the problem from the experts, rather than suggestions of solutions.
    I don’t know what the answer is, and it doesn’t appear that there’s a solution the general public can help with at the moment.
    In other news, I went grocery shopping this past Sunday.

  2. I enjoyed this review just as much as Nine Inch Nails, Davin. What the politicos (including the police chief) always say is we have to identify the problems before we can try to solve them. Well they’ve been doing that for years now. That mayor’s task force is doing some good work, trying to plug the dam locally by setting up some new housing projects — but you’re right, this is an issue way bigger than any local authority can handle. I feel sorry for the cops and council, they’ve been dealt a shitty hand by senior government cuts. It’s gonna take a social revolution, really, to change anything on this scale.

  3. Thanks for the write-up, Davin (and too bad we didn’t get a chance to chat/meet, but I did wave to you!).
    I was impressed by Jill Clements’ discussion, for the record. It seems she and her team have a good grip on the problems. She didn’t say this outright, but there’s clearly a “turf” mentality at work in the different social services silos – or perhaps I should say, an inability to break the borders between them – and the Coalition is intent on breaking those silos down. It seemed to me that part of this will involve challenging the poverty industry (the folks whose careers/ jobs depend on having people who have problems exist in the first place). If the Coalition wants to *end* any piece of homelessness (vs just *managing* it), it will involve putting some of the folks in the service sector out of work. Yay, is all I can say. But you can see what an entrenched mentality the Coalition must be facing…
    Jill did say that the Coalition is in the process of launching a website, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that news about their work and its progress will actually reach the public. You’re right when you write that it’s currently difficult to assess what they’re up to. Here’s hoping that’ll change soon – and that it will help put public pressure on the other service providers to work *with* the Coalition, even if it means eliminating TURF. (Can you tell how I hate the turf mentality? :-))
    Graham pointed out that an identified core group of ~325 people who are on the street were responsible for something like 23,000 calls to the police, which cost over $9m. Clearly, tackling the issues that core group has will go a long way to changing things, even if we do have over 1200 people who are homeless. The problems aren’t insurmountable if we tackle them in a smart way.
    I wasn’t convinced by Graham’s assertion that we don’t really have a drug problem downtown, which Graham insisted was the case because his undercover officers really were *undercover*. I sort of had to snort at that point, as I recall from my own misspent youth that we could all spot a narc from a mile away, and somehow I don’t think that’s really changed very much. There’s enough fairly open drug use, so the stuff must be acquired somewhere. And it’s not at the local PharmaSave.
    As for booze being a bigger problem in terms of social disorder, I can see that. I’m happy to hear that the old “catch-and-release” attitude is changing. That is, the cops used to put, say, an old “rubby” in the drunk tank overnight, so he’d be safe, and let him out again the next day, no charge. Today, the old rubby is eclipsed by …well, I hate to say it ’cause it’ll make me sound ageist, but he (and it really used to be nearly all guys) is eclipsed by the young guys (like students) who come downtown and cause disorder when they hit the streets pretty much drunk, after the bars close. Those guys will still be “caught” and put into the drunk tank, but their “release” will now include a ticket (attached to motor vehicle records, meaning you can’t renew your license unless you pay it). Maybe the thought of that consequence will get some of the rowdies (especially the habitual asshats) to rein themselves in.
    You are so right about the discussion on parking. That was pretty much irrelevant to the evening.

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