Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An email exchange with Jean Swanson and Wendy Pedersen Fall 2008

In searching for the draft Op-Ed I wrote in 2008 to advocate for an increased shelter allowance, I came across the following email exchange with Jean Swanson and Wendy Pedersen. At the time I was running for Vancouver City Council.

It is interesting to observe  how similar this discussion is to what I wrote in my recent Courier article, alone with what has changed, and what hasn't changed. (comments in red are from Jean or Wendy)

MG: Jean and Wendy, as you may have noticed, the issue of homelessness has
dominated this election campaign, and yet I have not heard any mention, by
anybody, advocating an increase in the Shelter Allowance.  Why is this?
Having spent a week in Toronto with international housing experts, I am more
convinced than ever that we need a comprehensive approach to solving
homelessness, not just big promises, or just one initiative, to address the
problem.  We need:

MG:  1. more housing;
Yes, Michael, more SOCIAL housing that low income people can afford.  Just building new expensive housing isn’t working for low income folks.  This means we need the city to organize pressure on provincial and federal governments to get enough money to start building the number of units that used to be built in the ‘80s—around 665 (only we need at least 800) a year in the city.  And, while we do need some supportive housing (the only kind the province is funding) we also need plain old low cost housing for low income people who don’t need any supports.  They are being pushed farther and farther back on the BC Housing wait lists because people who need supportive housing seem to be the priority now.
MG: 2.  better enforcement of the maintenance and occupancy bylaws to improve
existing housing;  Yes, especially the enforcement of the section of the Standards of Maintenance bylaw that allows the city to do the work and bill the owner if he refuses.

MG: 3.  increased shelter allowance to help offset the cost of better housing.  (In Toronto, the equivalent SR0's rent for $125 a week and up, and are
generally better maintained;  Yes, and CCAP is constantly calling for increased welfare rates.  We don’t confine this to only the shelter part of welfare, the part that goes to landlords, as we think the support part needs to go up too, as I outlined to you before.  We are a member of a coalition called Raise the Rates ( that is also working for this.

MG: 4.  a program to relocate people into existing apartments, with support
services, just like the street to home initiative (I'm told by BC Housing
that this is quietly happening.  Are you aware of cases?;  The city has several teams of outreach workers that go out and find people who are homeless and get them on welfare (rules get waived for this for the people the outreach workers are helping).  But Judy Graves and the outreach workers we know say that the big problem is finding housing; that the outreach teams are competing with each other for the same rooms; that there isn’t enough decent, vacant housing to put people in.

MG: 5.  more senior level funding along with private funding and coordinated
city initiatives to make all of this happen.  If we just had a national housing program with, say 800 units a year allocated for Vancouver, then people could plan to make it happen.  Private funding won’t make much of a dent we suspect.  The extra tax break that Dobell and friends want for housing could schlup money out of other charities that are doing useful work.  Housing is a fundamental human right and shouldn’t have to depend on charity.

MG: Now, what am I missing, and what should I be saying to try and help?

Missing:  What are you going to do to get people off the streets now, in the winter?  Suggestion:  the city should investigate opening up vacant sro rooms in the DTES and leasing them , with staff, as shelters where people could stay until decent housing is found and not be kicked out at 7 am.

What are you going to do to keep homelessness  from increasing because of sros that are renting daily, and weekly (illegally) to tourists and kicking out long term local low income residents?  Suggestion:  get city to proactively enforce the sra bylaw prohibiting daily /weekly rentals in more than 10% of rooms; repeal 10% rule.

What kind of proactive lobbying will you do to get $$ from feds and province?  Suggestion:  Build a huge city coalition of developers, builders, non profits, govt., etc, and work with them at the FCM and UBCM and develop creative lobbying tactics with both levels of govt.

What are you going to do to keep condos from overwhelming the DTES, pushing up land prices and pushing out low income residents and the services they need?  Suggetion:  support CCAP’s call for a moratorium on market housing in the DTES until we get a community plan and funding for low income housing.

How long should 4000 low income residents have to stay in crummy privately owned sro’s?  Suggestion:  At the current rate, about 100 new units a year are being built to replace the sro’s.  Forty years is too long to sentence sro residents to.  More low income housing has to be built in the DTES, not just in the rest of the city (that’s ok too).

MG: I realize it is an election campaign, and one cannot trust politicians during
such times, but I do have many opportunities to speak and be heard.  So I
would welcome your ideas and suggestions.  cheers Michael

CCAP position on shelters 
Jean and I thought you may want to know our tentative position on shelters in the DTES based on CCAP.  We plan to talk about this at our next ccap volunteer meeting on Friday November 7, but in the meantime, wanted you to have this. 
CCAP believes that everyone deserves a good 400 sq ft home with bathroom and kitchen facilities and we're working on that by
§  working with Citywide Housing Coalition to pressure senior governments for housing money
§  pressuring the City to lobby more effectively for decent housing;
§  Trying to get media to push all levels of government to fund decent housing.
In the meantime CCAP believes that no one should have to sleep on the street, couch surf or be otherwise homeless. We have endorsed the call for Storyeum to be opened as a shelter.  We believe the CCCA has done so as well.

CCAP also surveyed empty hotels and called for the city and province to lease empty rooms, fix them up, and use them for shelters where people could stay all day and have a little privacy.  Both Mayoral candidates have said they will look into this possibility.

CCAP's work on city land use policies is also relevant to homelessness. With hotels converting to tourist and upscale accommodation, with condos pressuring land prices upwards, and with developers drooling over the DTES for condos, people living in the 4000 privately owned SROs are at risk of eviction and homelessness.

CCAP is also working with Raise the rates and by ourselves to get the province to stop denying welfare to people in need and to increase welfare rates so people will be able to afford to rent places.
If we don't but the brakes on this process, homelessness will increase as it has increased in the last few years.    ~ Jean and Wendy

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