From the TC today:
Services for street people grow, but so do problemsThis is exactly what I want a city councillor to be saying in these very difficult and paralyzed times.
By Geoff Young
I have lived and worked in the city of Victoria for 30 years. My wife and I have chosen to raise our family in the city and to send our children to public schools here. The impact of what is happening in our downtown -- open drug use, infected needles, panhandling and urban camping -- is very real to us and I am as frustrated as many others that nothing we try seems to help.
More and more services are being offered to support the homeless and mentally ill -- shelter beds, hot meals, drop-in centres. Yet the problem grows. We can blame other levels of government, but perhaps it is time to look at what we as a city are doing. By trying to bring care and comfort to the less fortunate are we in fact enabling and attracting the very behaviours we are trying to change?
As an economist I know that incentives are powerful in shaping people's behaviour. Should we ask whether the unconditional food and shelter and support we offer, combined with our warm weather, might be drawing the vulnerable here? Are we sometimes doing too much, rather than too little?
Of course it is difficult to enforce laws against drug use, aggressive panhandling and street camping when there is no adequate treatment for mental illness or addiction and no solution to poverty. When we see people in distress it is a natural reaction to try and help.
But will enough resources ever be made available as long as we paper over problems by providing unconditional day-to-day maintenance and services, "warehousing" those with true needs in the parks, streets, squares, back alleys and church halls of the city? Are we simply reducing the pressure for the provincial government to accept its health-care, treatment and housing responsibilities?
Are we also allowing the federal government to postpone writing realistic and publicly supported drug laws? We have given up enforcing drug-possession laws downtown (neither the needle exchange nor the proposed safe injection site could exist if we did). As a result I have watched an addict injecting herself on the same steps of a downtown office building where she would be fined for smoking a cigarette. We accept that laws restricting smoking can work to change behaviour -- why are unwilling to restrict use of drugs that may be much more harmful?
And every needle drug user must find hundreds of dollars a day. It is a mathematical certainty that much of that comes from panhandling and petty crime. As a result, the social problems and growing dangers of our downtown are beginning to dominate how visitors view our city, whether they are tourists from Toronto or shoppers from Central Saanich.
As businesses and shoppers leave the downtown fewer of us are left to carry these social burdens, and our political influence diminishes. Suburban voters can avoid exposure to unpleasant reality by shopping in new malls that re-create the urban experience on private land. No one disputes that the problems of the downtown are complex, or that the upper levels of government bear much of the responsibility for conditions that appear in other cities too.
But the downtown is troubled and the trouble is spreading. Simply blaming others or letting the "experts" tell us to do more of what clearly has not been working is no solution. We must at least debate the question of whether the policies that we advocate as a city council and the way we spend our money are helping or hurting all of us.
Geoff Young is a Victoria city councillor.
On a completely different topic, someone tell me why the TSX climbs 200 points on a day when the US Fed embarks on the same stupid policy that got us into this mess in the first place? Look out, come October, the BoC will be raising rates. I won't be surprised to see a 50 basis point (0.5%) hike.