--> Getting It Right: Just say no to homelessness...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Just say no to homelessness...

It is finally time for innovative solutions for the homeless in our province. Years and years of throwing money at the problem hasn’t worked – the number continues to grow and taxpayers are weary.

In fact, what we’ve done is develop a whole network of government and non-profit agencies devoted to helping the homeless stay homeless. They provide emergency food, emergency shelter, and emergency medical care.

There is an old adage in economics: if you want to encourage something, subsidize it; if you want to discourage something, tax it.

Right now, in a sad way, we are encouraging homelessness, making it “bearable” to be homeless by providing these “emergency” services.

Now, before you get all twisted up, I’m not saying it is pleasant to be homeless and I’m not saying anyone wants to be homeless.

But let’s not forget we have built up a substantial industry of well-meaning people who make their livelihoods and defend their funding on the basis of supporting a homeless population.

The 2005 GVRD counted the total homeless population (in a 24 hour counting period) at 2174. I would suggest the number is higher, just because of survey techniques. I doubt the counters climbed through the bushes in Stanley Park enumerating all the tent dwellers, for instance.

Let’s say 3000 people in the GVRD are homeless. These, of course, are the truly homeless without access to a friend’s spare sofa and not knowing from night to night whether they will be sleeping in a crowded, fetid shelter or over a vent at Georgia and Burrard.

From the GVRD research, they are likely medically or mentally ill and struggle with some form of addiction. Most startling was the information that 55% of homeless had some form of income support from welfare, a pension or disability benefits.

So here is one radical idea and I’m sure there are more.

Why don’t we gather together each and every homeless service organization at BC Place along with each and every homeless person? Why not take each person, one at a time, diagnose the issues at the root of their inability to find or maintain housing and then put a plan in place for each?

More money for homeless services isn’t going to rid us of homelessness. In fact, it will do the opposite. If we take those funds and direct them to removing each person individually from the streets, we may actually make some lives better.

In the short-term, we can house them at BC Place while we sort it all out.

It is not right to help people stay on the streets. The only moral course of action is to remove them, forcibly if necessary, and assist them in building a new life.

As seen today in 24 Hours.


At 10:27 a.m., Blogger Carolyn Gardner said...


First of all I want to say good for you for thinking outside the box! I think you are on the right track. However, a popular saying comes to mind, and that is "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." This is especially true of those suffering from addictions of some sorts. You can't force someone to go into treatment (for the most part), espeically if they don't think they have a problem.

You are on the right track as far as realizing that where you stick the carrot is where people will most likely go. I agree that homeless services do nothing to address the underlying problem of homelessness and its causes. But they are still providing a good service. We simply need services that provide the right incentives and rewards for those who choose to make their lives better.

At 10:44 a.m., Blogger William E. Demers said...

We live in a country where homelessness may not be encouraged, but it is certainly perpetuated through the intervention of government on its current scale.

We should help these people, if we can, but throwing money at a problem just doesn't work.

At 11:30 a.m., Blogger Jason Bo Green said...

Well Erin, I don't know what the solution is, but I know you are right - homelessness has become an industry.

I wish I could offer up a suggestion of my own. I've changed a lot over the years - from a person in Vancouver who gave out change to beggars to a person in Toronto who thinks the homeless should be forcibly removed from the streets. Enough is enough already. Maybe I'm just frustrated with not being able to find the right fix, but I'm tired of all this money going down the drain without solving the problem.


At 6:23 p.m., Anonymous sean orr said...

If you were to round up every single homeless person, do you really think there would be enough housing to put them in? If every single one wanted to get treatment, do you think there would be enough beds for them? If you think homelessness is perpetuated by government interference, how is it that Campbell's cuts to Family Services, Addiction services, BC Housing, and Welfare have resulted in a TRIPLING of the homeless population? It seems as though de-regulation is not the answer either.

At 12:01 a.m., Blogger YVRpilot said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12:06 a.m., Blogger YVRpilot said...

Last week, I met someone that earns a six figure salary and calls a seedy motel on east Hastings home.

A couple of years ago, I met another individual who also earns six figures. Weeks after, I spotted him passed out on a sidewalk in New Westminster. He was dressed in rags.

My point is: EDUCATION & REHABILITATION. You can provide food, shelter and even money for homeless people, but without education and rehabilitation they don't know how to get themselves out of the lifestyle they live in.

The current system only dissimulates a cure...

At 12:59 p.m., Blogger Paul Hillsdon said...

Actually, your idea is quite similar to one I was reading about not too long ago. I forget whether this was in Seattle or San Fransisco, but organizers created a convention type gathering (it happens every few months) for homeless and homelessness organizations to help provide services where services are needed. If I recall properly, it was highly successful. Of course there's the problem that you cannot force one to go to such a gathering.

But, at least it's doing something. Better than debating the politics of homeless on the internet day-in, day-out ;)

I would actually very much like to see this happen. It also more productive in some ways than squatting.

At 4:14 p.m., Blogger Brent, the one and only, unless your name is Brent said...

Erin, I read your idea in the paper and it made me chuckle.

I look at what you wrote and have to ask myself if you fully understand the full situation.

Yes, homelessness is a serious problem in today's society, especially in the GVRD. Looking directly at the isolated Downtown East Side of Vancouver for example is just a good example of the governments apathy towards homelessness.

You first state that the government for years has throw money at the issue, when realistically only about half the agencies in the area are government funded. Certain solutions are totally funded by the people who run them, or they take donations from the community.

You sound like a contradicting voice that doesn't understand what she is trying to say. On one hand you state these organizations as devoted to homelessness, providing solutions to make it more bearble. Yet your tone in your writing, questions whether these services are really necessary.

I also have to laugh that you say living on the street is bearable, yet in the next sentence you say it isn't pleasant. I highly doubt you have ever spent a night on the street, you seem as just a person who remarks upon the images that they see when walking in the poor sections of town.

Then your info about mental and medical problems the homeless face, fails to bring up a strong point on the huge impact of drug related issues they face daily. Crime and addiction are a huge crisis for the problem of homelessness. In fact, there is alot of potential to break the trapped cycle of homelessness by removing the drug related issues that many in these areas face.

Finally, Erin, I have to be blunt. Your proposal of forcing homeless people off the street into B.C. place so we can tell them their life sucks, and move them as we see fit, is straight something a nazi would pull off. But seriously, it's a horrible idea. One: many would resist.
Two: many don't want to change.
Three: many can't change, due to the medical or mental issues you brought up.
Four: B.C. place is a horrible place to station them. A crowded stadium is just as bad as a crowded shelter.

Oh ya, about those emergency shelters. If you were homeless you'd realized there pretty difficult to get into. Lines, waiting in the cold from 6-11pm.

I just have to ask, what are you doing to make a difference in homelessness?

At 1:11 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with much of what Brent has to say. The reasons of homelessness of Vancouver's streets are as many as the people who are homeless. But do not forget they are people first.

The utter lack of empathy in your post leaves me frightened for you. And I hope you never find yourself in need of a helping hand. The distance between the haves and the have nots in this city is not so very far apart. What frightens me most is the homeless families. The working poor, with kids, who can't afford to live anywhere here anymore. What is that about? That is simply greed.

But I do agree that as a society we have a responsibility to do the best we can for the poor, the weak, the elderly, the ill, the neediest among us. I was brought up to believe that was one of the main reasons we had a government and why we paid taxes. (And why we had paved roads too.)

I also remember when we did not have food banks and the only time we gathered cans of food was at christmas time.

Erin, you need to talk to the folks on the front lines. The people who are trying to make a difference. Who are on the streets trying to help get others off the streets.Then come back and tell us what you learned.

Now I have the unfortune to have a disability. I must rely on the generosity of strangers and the food bank. The small pleasures of dinners out or shopping for something pretty or treating myself to a new book are forbidden me. I am only a few weeks away from homelessness should my building be deemed disposible and a highrise more suitable in its place, or should my rent or utilities go up. I do expect my hydro bill to rise as yours will too, now that Mr. Campbell is breaking that promise too.

I could go on but I think you get the picture. And should you think that I sound as though I am elderly, I am not. I am in my 30's. I own'd my home. I had a family, beautiful kids. They are gone now.

It could happen to anyone. It could happen to you. You can't fix it alone. We can only fix it all together as we are all in it together.

Be grateful for what you have girl. Find your empathy then think outside of the box. Then we'll find answers...together.

At 1:02 p.m., Blogger Bernie said...

Two Root Causes of Homelessness:

1. Taxation. When the State
spends one billion dollars
it has just taxed and therefore destroyed one billion dollars
worth of jobs elsewhere. If a $40,000 hit destroys a family
then The State has just destroyed
25,000 families. There's some homeless for you.

2. Currency Inflation. Banks essentially
print "money" out of thin air then lend
it out to States and housebuyers.
As soon as this money is distributed it pushes
up the price of all other
goods and services that are purchased
with the newly created "money".
A $3.00 hamburger now costs $3.50
So the poor non-homeowner subsidises
the relatively "rich" homeowner.
There's more homelessness for
you there as the people
without access to State employment
or bank loans end up to varying
degrees "poorer".

At 12:32 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go M.O.M.

At 11:55 p.m., Blogger Haven Bartton said...

All I can say is that I'm glad *someone* is making some suggestions for a permanent and effective solution to this problem.

Most people either don't care enough, or just say "more has to be done".

Well, "more" has been done, and it's helped, but it's not solving the overall problem.

So while I don't think Airton's suggestion is the best idea out there, it *is* an idea.

More thought like this is necessary.

At 9:59 p.m., Blogger Robert W. said...


Through my work with BC Digital Divide I've been invited into a large number of poorer households throughout Greater Vancouver. Some of our recipients are recovered drug addicts. Their stories were different but there was one common thread amongst all of them: What it took to FINALLY get past the drugs & poverty was to hit rock bottom. These are their words, not mine.

Today I took the bus down to Main & Hastings, where I then walked over to Chinatown to make a presentation to the local Chapter of the Rotary Club. As the bus crawled along a long stretch of East Hastings, it reminded me of a scene from Night of the Living Dead. Only an uncaring person wouldn't want to help these people. But how?

Give them free housing? The places will be destroyed in a month. Increase welfare rates? It'll just enable them to stay on the street longer.

While all the public & private initiatives on the Downtown Eastside were clearly started for benevolent reasons, one has to wonder if their continued presence [as they now are] has switched from a hand up to a dependency.

I think your idea is a brilliant one but it'll never happen because too many in the Poverty Industry will lose their employment.

Safety Nets are great but unfortunately too many get stuck in the very Net that was meant to help them out.

Robert W.


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