Opinion: Housing czar defends drug ghettos

Are current methods addressing issues around homelessness?

Housing Minister Rich Coleman was flabbergasted at the angry response to his solution to the Victoria courthouse “tent city,” the latest tarp-covered camp to spring up in southern B.C.

Coleman announced two temporary shelters with three meals a day and medical supports. One is a former nursing home close to the courthouse squat, conveniently located near panhandling and drug dealing spots as well as taxpayer-funded services. The other offers indoor or outdoor tent space at a former youth custody centre, with a dedicated downtown shuttle bus so these “victims” of “homelessness” don’t have to endure B.C.’s most generous transit bus system.

We weren’t consulted, said the indignant spokespeople for those bringing new-looking tents to take advantage of food and other handouts, offered in B.C.’s warmest climate by the province’s most naïve local government.

But this was just a show for the media by our resident professional protesters, some of whom aren’t really “homeless.”

After the reaction, which Coleman described as “bizarre,” the combined 88 housing opportunities are being snapped up. Those on welfare will have to fork over their $375 monthly housing allowance, as the province continues to convert more housing and offer more rent subsidies.

It’s no wonder that southern B.C. is the destination of choice. Coleman said it’s always been a seasonal thing, but this winter has been the highest in a decade, largely due to an exodus of economic migrants from the downturn in Alberta, naturally heading for B.C.’s most desirable real estate.

I asked him about two other homeless hotspots. In Abbotsford, campers have ignored a city deadline to take down structures in a three-year-old camp, after temporary shelter and costly provincial supports were brought on. A courtroom and street confrontation looms with self-styled “drug war survivors” and their Vancouver legal help.

In Maple Ridge, a tent camp sprang up next to the local Salvation Army shelter, with people cycling through the shelter’s 15-day limit, camping and being fed until they could go back in.

Mayor Nicole Read, who has worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, said Maple Ridge took on its own outreach, shelter and housing effort because the province’s $1 million-a-year Salvation Army operation isn’t working.

Coleman is not amused. He said he’s had no complaints about Abbotsford’s Salvation Army shelter, and Read is the only one griping. And no mayor is going to tell him how to spend provincial dollars. Maple Ridge now has two shelters with accompanying street drugs, prostitution and crime.

I asked Coleman about the 10-year-study led by Simon Fraser University researcher Julian Somers on the housing, outreach and services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This is the heart of B.C.’s “housing first” strategy, where the province has bought and renovated 30 “single room occupancy” buildings, built another dozen and poured in every possible support, including the buyout of high-living executives at the Portland Hotel Society.

The study found that the hardest cases are worse off than ever, based on court, hospital and other service records, while the influx to the notorious Vancouver drug ghetto have tripled in 10 years.

“I haven’t had a chance to go over that report yet, but I disagree with the assumption I’ve heard already, because I walk the Downtown Eastside,” Coleman said. “I don’t know if they do every few weeks to a month, but I’ve been doing it for about nine or 10 years and I can tell you it’s a whole lot better down there.”

The question is whether problems are being solved, or just better hidden from view.

Tom Fletcher is Black Press legislature reporter and columnist. tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Black Press Media file photo)
VicPD arrest man at gunpoint after firearm call

Man faces charges for breaching condition not to possess replica firearms

Coroner Andy Watson confirmed the death of a man in Chemainus Monday night.
Death at Victoria encampment for people who are homeless deemed not suspicious

BC Coroners Service now investigating death at Royal Athletic Park Jan. 23

Learning tools from the Garth Homer Society’s LifeStreams program have gone online. (Facebook/Garth Homer Society)
Online platform launched for Greater Victoria adults with developmental disabilities

Platform includes programs, events, activities and COVID-19 resources

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Second doses delayed as B.C. vaccine delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is urging visitors to stay on designated trails after a hiker became injured in an unsanctioned area last week. (Westerly file photo)
Injured hiker rescued in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

Local musician and artist Daisy Melville created a watercolour portrait of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders from the recent American inauguration, and with help from her mom, is now selling t-shirts and more with funds going to the Comox Valley Food Bank. Image submitted
Island artist turns Sanders inauguration meme into art for good

All proceeds from the sale of shirts, sweaters and more will go to the Comox Valley Food Bank

A Kelowna couple welcomed their Nooner baby in December. (Flytographer)
Kelowna couple welcomes baby girl from Hotel Zed Nooner campaign

Nicole and Alex will now have 18 years of free stays at the hotel

Kyrell Sopotyk was drafted by the Kamloops Blazers in 2016 and played two seasons with the Western Hockey League club. (Photograph By ALLEN DOUGLAS/KTW)
Kamloops Blazer paralyzed in snowboarding accident sparks fundraiser for family

As of Jan. 24, more than $68,000 had been raised to help Kamloops Blazers’ forward Kyrell Sopotyk

Most Read