This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Legalize tent cities.

As my regular readers know, I have a real issue with the way homelessness is dealt with in many cities. Instead of doing what needs to be done to alleviate the issues related to homelessness, it seems we are getting closer to criminalizing homelessness related activities and issues like many American cities are doing. In some US states,even feeding the homeless is illegal.

Is this what it has to come to? Have we no compassion at all anymore? Even if the provincial and federal governments kicked in all the money and land needed to build more affordable housing right this second, it still would leave us with a certain portion of the homeless population outside camping. Is it better to continually invest all the time, bylaw and police resources to do continual sweeps and cleanups? Or is it time we acknowledge our communities failures along with a heaping dose of reality and look at alternative, interim approaches? This is as much about the economics of these homeless camps as it is about compassion.

One thing I know for sure, what is currently happening clearly isn’t working when you see the number of tents, camps and tarps in parks and lots in Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods. This week, Brent and I are taking the lead in looking at this issue. Please, feel free to disagree or perhaps you agree, but let’s get the conversation started.

This week’s topic: Should local governments enact bylaws that would allow and regulate legal tent cities for the homeless?

If there is one thing that remains true about the state of homelessness in Metro Vancouver, it’s that no one has been able to solve the issue. For years we’ve seen a never-ending stream of conferences, studies and task forces on the root causes of homelessness, with an equally generous number of promises to find solutions. So where are they?

There is even more finger-pointing between various levels of government as political leaders on the hot seat try to pass the buck when the media spotlight shines on issues of unresolved homelessness in their community. A good example of this is the Oppenheimer Park tent city last year that brought Vancouver national attention. The city of Abbotsford’s antagonistic approach to dealing with people on the street – which included chicken manure – raised even more compelling questions not only on how to deal with homelessness, but how we view it.

Read Brent Stafford’s columnhere.

Both situations speak to the need for immediate action on interim and long-term solutions. If community leaders want to avoid similar issues this summer, they need to start now. Most shelters currently only offer an overnight bed, sending residents back to the street during the day. Many don’t offer space for belongings or a cart, and a large number of homeless choose instead to camp in lots, parks or wooded areas instead. This is not going to change – it’s been happening for decades.

The result is never good for a community. Public urination/defecation, and garbage impact the health and welfare of both campers and neighbouring residents or businesses. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is now addressing the growing need in his city by proposing new legislation to authorize and regulate three more tent cities. Yes, there are others – six within the city, and King County has several. He makes it clear it isn’t a long-term strategy, but a much safer interim option than what is happening in parks, alleys and vacant lots…

Read the rest of this weeks column, vote and comment at http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2015/01/18/the-duel-legalize-tent-cities

This is a link to Seattles current tent city website, which is run by social service agencies and religious organizations on a rotating location basis. http://www.sharewheel.org/Home/tent-cities

And a recent news stories on Seattle mayor Ed Murrays proposal http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2025464425_homelessencampmentsxml.html

19 thoughts on “This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Legalize tent cities.

  1. I am an opinionated guy. Got a topic? I’ve got an opinion (ignorant or otherwise). Can’t help myself. And, of course, this topic is no exception except………my opinions conflict with each other.
    On the one hand, I believe we have to help those poor unfortunates who can’t help themselves. Thus, a dozen well-placed Riverviews would be on my to-do agenda.

    On the other hand, I don’t think we have to ‘carry’ idiots, free-loaders and ne’er do wells for very long at all (altho, everyone needs a hand once in awhile – even the undeserving. But only one.).

    So a few homeless shelters do that job nicely in my opinion. But the real solution lies deeper into the heart of the matter and we will likely never address that: and that is simply that not ALL people are created equal or into equal circumstances. And our communities, our politics and our economic system is not making any effort at providing adequate equalization opportunities. We have a system that exacerbates the inequities that it also creates.
    Thus the rich get richer. The addicted die. The mentally ill are abused and the poor get poorer. This is NOT about homelessness (except for the mentally ill and the tragically addicted). The real issue is about opportunity. Students should NOT have to go into debt to learn how to contribute to society. Non violent criminals should NOT go jail – they should go to work for the community. Single mothers simply cannot raise healthy children without some societal help. The list goes on. And very little on the list requires beds and buildings. So…homelessness? Just another symptom of a system gone wrong.

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    1. Laila

      A very thoughtful comment JDC.

      There aren’t any easy answers, are there? And then we have things like this coming up, where government starts divesting themselves of social housing… http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/Daphne+Bramham+embarks+massive+divestment+public/10740218/story.html

      Or this… where the federal government has changed its funding model, which is leaving this agency plus Sources in BC without the funding they previously had to run homelessness prevention programs…. http://www.burnabynow.com/news/new-homeless-strategy-could-leave-seniors-out-in-the-cold-1.1725140

      If government isn’t currently meeting the needs of prevention and affordable housing and is now cutting back on the funding of agencies like this…. and we are seeing some economic turmoil and job losses mounting… we’ve been talking here for a long time about the price of everything going up… will we see even more homeless on the street?

      Governments of every level need to be acting proactively to prevent a bigger problem now, rather than deal with the social issues later.

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  2. Les

    Homeless is such a wide brush to use when describing “street peoples”. Should addicts and mentally ill people be occupying a park in your neighborhood? This happened in my area when former Mayor Watts wanted to clean up Whalley Ball park for the Little League championship tournament. My house was broken into, tool sheds and back porch thefts. This happened to most of my neighborhood and also included vehicle break_ins car thefts for joy rides. If someone is in need of a leg up for a short time and a tent offers an opportunity to help I would support this idea completely. But why would this have to be downtown in a park meant to be used by all residents and what is a reasonable time frame for someone to live there. Also Seattle and the U.S. doesn’t have the same social programs in place, making the tent cities more needed. I think as you said homelessness is a much more complicated issue. On another note does it make sense to bring immigrant workers in to build houses for other new immigrants?

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    1. Laila

      Another thoughtful comment with good points. I think its important to look at the Seattle rotating tent cities and the regulations that would even make it better if they approve more. Its a learning process and there are many good people down on their luck who are neither addicts or criminals, but on disability, mentally ill,etc.

      It is a complicated issue for sure, but getting the conversation started on this is crucial. In Seattle the tent cities are not allowed in residential areas or parks to avoid this. The organization handling it has a help or complaint line and take it very seriously. As I mentioned, it’s not the perfect solution but I believe an organized, regulated encampment with access to services is a far better solution than what we do see now all over Whalley and Central city, and in Newton, or in many areas of Vancouver, Burnaby.

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  3. Chris

    I speak as someone who went downtown once a week bringing hot soup and bread, and occasionally clothing, to give the homeless a meal at Hastings and Main for a period of 2 years. (It was many years ago). I feel for these people. I also know that political correctness is getting in the way of solving the problem.

    Yes, many have mental illnesses. Most of the homeless that I saw were alcoholics or had drug problems. They were all jobless. Some lived in beat up hotels and got welfare. It is next to impossible to get a job if you are mal-nourished, drug addicted or wearing stinking filthy clothes.

    Here’s my solution, and many of you are not going to like it. What I would do is round up all of these people and take some time to classify them.

    What I would do for most of them is to remove them out of the ghettos that they live in and bus them north to a sparsely populated area.

    I would build cheap practical housing for them and supply 3 nutritious meals a day. I would ensure that no drugs or alcohol or even cigarettes were on the premises.

    I would supply trades training for each of them according to their aptitudes for 3 days a week and make them, (yes, make them) work for 3 days a week at some form of meaningful labor.

    After, in most cases, 2 years, I would send them back into society with a healthy drug free body, a skilled trade, clean clothes, a couple thousand dollars in their bank account and a place in a transition home for each of them. I would find a way to find meaningful jobs for each of them. I would also advise them that if they went back to their old situation, they would be picked up and that their next stint up north would be for 4 years.

    These folks would be paying for their keep by the work that they do and learning job and life skills at the same time in a safe environment. The political correct folks would balk at this solution but how many of you have actually gone down and tried to help some of these folks? Throwing money at the problem and providing free housing, free food, and free cash is not what they need.

    They need to be helped to understand that they need to be responsible for their own welfare. The need to WORK!!! Self esteem and pride would return. Their sense of hopelessness would removed.

    A clean neat lower east side would also be a very positive by product. Working folks wouldn’t need to be fearful or just plain disgusted by these ghettos. Working responsible people have a right to the city too. It would be a win / win for all concerned.

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  4. workforfun

    Both Les and JDC offer very good comments. I happen to agree with both on this issue, but put more emphasis on what both the federal and provincial governments do. In both cases, the governments are agreeing/promoting on health care, importation of TFW thereby excluding Canadians the chance of some employment, ignoring real issues re veterans (federal) and the list goes on. The end result is that the local municipal governments are left to deal with the serious problem of homelessness. Thanks to Thatcherism, the UK now has more homeless people than ever before and that includes the post war years of 1945 and up. I see the same mentality at work here in Canada unfortunately, where the current federal and provincial governments are more intent on “buying votes” than they are about doing things to benefit Canada and Canadians.
    I doubt that very much could be done but providing shelters is perhaps, a worthy first step. Various charities manage to do a great job in helping the poor and destitute – maybe the governments could help and contribute more.
    Not an easy problem and not an easy solution.
    Thanks

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  5. e.a.f.

    legalizing tent cities? not a good idea. setting aside space and facilities for camp grounds and no restrictions on who stays there, perhaps but the real issue is homelessness and tents cities are not the answer. One good fire and a lot of dead people.

    In New Orleans, Louisiana they decided to ensure no Veteran was homeless. their goal was achieved by a coalition of government and charitable organizations.

    Utah has been dealing with their homelessness and is making great strides. How? They started building and putting homeless people in apartments. Has it worked? You bet. They figured out a homeless person costs the state $20K a year. Housing them costs $12K a year. it saves money. In some cases people become stable enough to find J O B S. yes, that too.

    if people have mental health issues they will never recover if they are homeless. If you don’t have mental health issues when you become homeless you will have them after a year on the street. We have seen where some mental illnesses have led.

    In the Comox Valley, a private campground, aided by Habitat for Humanity, The Rotary, and others, have found away to provide low cost housing and moved 52 people off the street. They take donated, in reasonable condition R.V.s, rehab them, put them at Maple Pool and charge people what their welfare housing allowance is, to live there. Works like a hot dam. Of course the “city fathers” aren’t too keen and have been taking the owners to court. The judge said, can’t throw the people out on the street.

    Some charities are experimenting with “tiny homes”. (a Catholic organization in the U.S. trying to help the homeless) They are simply 200 sq. ft. homes, with a small bathroom, kitchen, bed, closet. Each home has a small porch. People can lock their doors and viola, they have a home. the cost of building these tiny homes range from the mid 20Ks to whatever you want to put in them. However, here in the Comox Valley one person was building tiny homes and selling them in the mid $20Ks. Now this may not work in urban areas where land is very expensive, but many might not gravitate to urban areas if they had housing in their own areas. Its all about the lack of money and of assistance.

    So I don’t agree with tent cities, its not a solution, on the other hand the homeless ought not to be moved around like cattle. We need a solution for housing the homeless and that ought to be the focus. we can not ignore the economically deprived. It will only lead to more social problems. As they reported last night on t.v. news, by 2016 the top 1%ers will own 50% of the world’s wealth. One third of all Canadians would be out on the street if they had no pay cheque for a month. Try to think of homelessness as something which could and might be happening to you.

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  6. katharina heitzmann

    as far as homelessness in the Vancouver /lower mainland area, the answer seems pretty obvious to me. the majority of the homeless have mental health issues and/or drug addictions. give these people the help they need,which includes a safe place for them to live and possibly recover. this would be the humane thing to do and in the long term would save money now being spent for police and emergency hospital care.

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      1. e.a.f.

        oh I do like that one: “have a provincial government that is mentally challenged”. Please may I use it. I’ll use quotes. it is hilarious! best line yet to describe the current B.c. lieberals.

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  7. I do have a solution. Not great – but requires little from government. I call it Blood From Stones (in other words, no one loses much in doing good works). Proposed it years ago when I was in the pinko business. But I didn’t pursue it – too busy putting on band-aids at the time.
    Rich people form small holding companies and buy residential buildings, renovate them, rent them out cheap and promise (covenant) to hold for say, ten years (half the amortization period). The holding companies hand them over to non-profits who manage them with only the live-in staff paid by government. Less than $100K/year. The owner group is exempt from taxes so long as the building is used as stated and maintained to code. Insurance comes from low rents. ROI (return on investment) is pretty close to nil so a tax deduction (maybe double the cost of living index) would accumulate to the company when capital gains are incurred when the building is sold.
    Example: a large house or small apartment building is purchased by Richguys ltd. and handed over to Aunt Leah (single mothers help group) to run. Aunt Leah hires a den mother/s who helps the kids get off to school, baby-sits the young ones and cooks meals for the half dozen single moms who go out and find work. Mothers pay food, utilities and such. The mothers are mothers in the evening. After two years of regular income, the mothers have to fledge. Out they go. After ten years (or covenant period) the Richguys can sell the property or develop it – whatever.
    Benefits: Richguys get to ‘hold’ property tax free. Mothers get subsidized rents. Govt. has no capital costs. Finding rich guys? Easy. Finding Non-profits? Easier. Grants from government? High political return for little money – should NOT be a tough sell.
    Modify model as required for the target population.

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  8. Meant to add: An ‘umbrella’ society can be formed that does the legwork for the Richguys. They find the property to purchase and have the right contractors at the ready. They do the politicking to get the permits and such. Hell, they can even have the financing lined up. They prep the Aunt Leahs or find other societies to ‘run’ it. In that way the Richguys just ‘pony up’ and don’t have to work at it. The non-profs don’t have to be real estate savvy. It’s a hand-over role. Piece of cake.

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    1. My comment above makes no sense. It was following a lengthier one submitted earlier – but not shown? No idea where that went…? In a nutshell – there is a way to do this. Simple, easy, very little government involvement. HUGE improvement. If you want the idea, I’ll re-write it.

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  9. OK…damn…writing again….This is the plan: get some Richguys to buy a residential property and fix it up. They then hand that property over to a non-profit group to run as a ‘half-way’ house. The Richguys are exempt from municipal taxes for as long as they covenant to hold the property and maintain it. Minimum, say, ten years. The non-profit ‘rents’ out rooms. The rent is the ‘program’ money for the running costs. Maybe some goes to the mortgage. Don’t expect much. The government pays only for the live-in staff salaries – less than $100K a year. No capital costs. No running costs.
    Example: a ten unit building is created out of a big house or a converted building or whatever. A non-profit like Aunt Leah’s (single mother helping society) is given it to run. Single moms have a den mother or two to help them find work, care for kids and do the ‘housework’. Moms find jobs. After two years of steady employment, the moms have to move on. They graduate, so to speak.
    The rich guys get to ‘hold’ the property and gain some kind of capital gains exemption based on how long it operates in a non-profit mode. When they sell it (after the time they covenanted for) they get their money back. They may not WIN as big but they won’t likely lose a penny. Plus they get tax deductions. Aunt Leah (or similar group) is relieved of being real estate savvy and building maintenance. They just do what they do best – supporting single moms. Government is happy – lots of good political fodder from very little money and no physical plant to worry about. Key: the planning/organizing umbrella society has to make the project community friendly. They manage the start-up. This where expertise is needed.
    Getting Richguys Ltd.to buy? Easy. They do that kind of thing anyway. It’s called holding for speculative gains. Enrolling the Aunt Leah-types? Easy. That’s what they do. Subscribing government? Who knows – they are idiots.

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  10. Sorry, readers. The idea comes out of sequence. The first post was held up for some reason so I wrote the one above thinking I had to repeat myself. Then – this morning – it was there twice. Sorry.

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