Robert on homelessness, crime and addiction

November 8, 2008 at 10:28 pm Leave a comment

Lawyer Stewart Johnson and his team have been very involved in the needle exhange controversy. For the last couple of years I’ve been listening to his concerns and receiving his e-mail news reports on the Cormorant Street area’s woes.

This is my response to his questionnaire:

What do you think are the reasons Victoria has such visible problems around homelessness and street issues?

-Federal and Provincial offloading of the mentally ill (de-institutionalizing)
-Harsher drugs that have more acute effects than traditional drugs like heroin and alcohol
-Less affordable housing
-Gating of alleys and doorways that flush the homeless into more visible areas
-Our climate and stable economy that attracts people from all facets of life
-ineffective and underfunded programs dealing with addiction
-A previous lack of political will at all levels of government
-lack of effective law enforcement and diversion programs

How do you think those problems should be handled?

Let’s stop pondering and act on the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force and Ted Hughes’ Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness now. Let’s implement a Community Courts system and strengthen and sustain the Con Air program. Let’s focus our police resources on tackling those dealers that prey on our most vulnerable street people. Let’s stop bickering and implement housing solutions for those out of rehab. Let’s have an adult conversation with the Federal Government about how a supervised injection site can get addicts off the sidewalk and into rehab quicker. Let’s publicize the cost-effectiveness of treatment vs. ignoring the problem. Let’s make VIHA know that health centres for street people need adequate funding to alleviate the social disorder they attract. Let’s break down the silos that prevent creative problem-solving and cooperation among Victoria’s service providers.

Where do homelessness and street issues rate in your list of priorities for the city?

At the top.

How would you describe your own level of knowledge on this subject? How did you come by that knowledge?

Very high. As President of the Downtown Residents’ Association I make sure residents’ observations are heard by the service providers. Through my constant interactions with our Councillor Liaison Charlayne-Thornton-Joe, the Chair of the Mayor’s Task Force as well as my work on the various committees including the Downtown Advisory Committee and the DVBA Clean & Safe Committee. Through these organizations and through reports I receive directly from residents and businesses I am continually updated on the situation and informed of the latest data and research on the topic of homelessness.

Please describe an “ideal world” around homelessness in terms of which levels of government would assume most responsibility for dealing with the issue. What are the responsibilities of:

– the federal government?

Housing, justice reform, enforcement

– The provincial government?

Housing, justice reform, health care

– Municipal and regional government?

Housing, regional co-ordination, community health care, policing, bylaw enforcement

– The business community?

Employment programs, neighbourhood revitalization and beautification, funding initiatives, lobbying and networking,

– Individual citizens?

Funding programs, volunteering, lobbying government, self education on homeless issues

If elected, how would you demonstrate leadership in tackling the issues in Victoria and holding other levels of government accountable for their own areas of responsibility?

Demonstrating my ability to work with stakeholders without displaying political bias or party loyalty I can apply my knowledge and experience to this complex task. Solving social issues surrounding homelessness and addiction requires someone able to work with all levels of government.

Getting behind and advocating for the implementation of all the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force. Continue to act as a liaison between citizens and the various levels of Government and the service providers.

How would you get around the many challenges that other politicians have faced on this issue? Please tell us what you’d do to manage each of the following challenges:

– lack of regional buy-in,

Continue to make the case that all citizens of the CRD bear a responsibility in solving this crisis. Appeal to higher levels of government for support. Stop bullying the other mayors. Listen to what their concerns are. Connect with citizens of other municipalities so they know they are being listened to as well. Be firm yet flexible in trying to forge cooperation between jurisdictions. Emphasize that a healthy Downtown means a healthy CRD which means an economically strong South Island.

– no certainty around funding for new construction, land, operating costs,

Examine Best Practices in other cities. Explore creative funding models that leverage partnerships with government, non-profit and private entities. Establish minimum mandatory goals and fit the institution around the budget limitations. For instance the new Our Place shelter is state of the art but there is no money left to fund it 24-7. Tie goals, milestones and outcomes to the client, not the institution.

– concentration of street services in the downtown core

Make the case for dispersion of services to all neighbourhoods, because most street-entrenched people originate from within the entire CRD, not just Downtown.

– NIMBYism,

Education for citizens on the realities of addictions and homelessness. Empowering residents with the knowledge that commitment to solving homelessness makes for a safer, more vibrant and economically healthy city and region. Tie service providers’ licenses to minimum standards of order. Make them as accountable as restaurants, clubs and bars when it comes to keeping the streets orderly.

– lack of addiction services,

Continue to lobby for sustainable funding for detox, counselling and treatment from all service providers. Bring the case to citizens; make it an election issue. Let people know about how important these services are–not just in lives saved but in the thousands of dollars less it costs to treat a street-entrenched person vs. letting them bounce around the hospital and courtroom.

– tight vacancy rate,

Discourage demolition and conversion of affordable rental housing. Encourage continued densification of Downtown that follows the Downtown Plan and Smart Growth principles. New housing coming on line frees up other older and cheaper suites.

– lack of affordable, supported housing,

Advocate creative solutions for affordable housing involving all sectors of the housing industry: government, non-profits and the private sector. Urge architects and developers to design buildings that adhere to the Triple Bottom Line approach and exhibit design excellence and harmony with their surroundings. New regulations coming on line will permit cheaper housing using new building methods and smaller suite sizes and building footprints. I will look for creative ways of allowing low-income housing to be brought into our neighbourhoods, including housing suitable for families.

– mental illness on the street

Encourage the Province to make sure there facilities where the mentally unstable can be safe. The experiment of closing down mental hospitals is an acknowleged failure.

– open selling and using of drugs

Community Courts/Con Air/more and better allocated police resources. We should investigate getting the opiates out of the dealers hands and supplying to addicts behind closed doors and under supervision–but only if they comply with detox, rehab and renouncing serious crime.

– crime and vandalism affecting people who live, work and shop in the downtown

Again, Community Courts. Other programs as mentioned above. Institute and publicize websites and phone numbers where citizens can report the effects of crime. I will fight for greater cooperation between police forces in other municipalites so that scant resources are put where they are needed. I was proud that our Community Association partnered with the DVBA in sponsoring a forum on Community Courts.

Entry filed under: Election 2008, needle exhange, safe injection sites, social issues.

All Candidates Meeting tonight, Friday November 7: Reply to the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition

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