The Woodward's project will bring some changes but other steps are needed
By Michael Geller, Special to the Sun
January 21, 2010
Will the recent lighting of the Woodward's W herald a new chapter in the life of the Downtown Eastside?
I do not share the view proclaimed by some community activists that Woodward's and other condominium developments will lead to the eviction of low income households and more homelessness. But there will be changes; some neighbourhood residents will no longer be able to urinate in the streets and alleys and openly sell and use drugs in front of the Woodward's property.
Unless we put in place a National Housing Policy that proclaims housing as a right, like the government of Cuba did after the revolution, there will always be homeless people in our city.
Since we are not soon likely to get a National Housing Policy, below are five approaches that could be tried.
Recently it was announced that the StreetoHome foundation wants to build thousands of new housing units in the city. I would suggest the Foundation copy what its Toronto counterpart did, namely help fund the placement of people into existing rental apartments scattered around the city, along with a range of support services.
Some people on the streets did have friends and families from whom they have been cut off. Perhaps we should devote more resources to help reunify these people with families and friends.
The Salvation Army operates one such program, but with inadequate resources. Maybe additional funding should be provided to it and other organizations offering similar services.
Many homeless and low income people are capable of working, if only they could find suitable employment. Tradeworks, Building Opportunities for Business (BOB) and Eastside Movement for Business & Economic Renewal Society (EMBERS) are excellent organizations trying to help people find work. However, each needs more funding and support.
Some people want to work but cannot do so because of their appearance. So why not have more barbershops where people can get free shaves and haircuts to prepare them for work?
There is no one coordinating entity. Perhaps what we need is a local Community Trust.
One of the worst times in the DTES is Welfare Wednesday when everyone receives their welfare cheque and many head off to pubs and drug dealers, resulting in increased crime. Why not spread the payday across the whole month?
In summary, there is no one easy answer to address the problems of this neighbourhood.
However, while Woodward's may offer many benefits, there may be equally effective but considerably less expensive and time consuming solutions. Let us hope so.
Michael Geller is a Vancouver architect and developer.
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