Monday, September 24, 2007

Rev. Al Tysick For Mayor!

OK. Well maybe not mayor, but he puts forth a compelling argument. Or at least a rebuttal. Or at least a bit more of the same old, same old? And in my quest to be fair and balanced, I shall post it in response to Geoff Young's piece in the TC. (also from the TC).

Walking around downtown can be a scary experience -- particularly if you do not have a home and you are wondering where to lay your head and how to heal your broken body.

Fortunately the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce has decided to do something about homelessness and the city's downtrodden, something to improve the lives of our neighbours who are homeless, make the downtown more pleasant for everyone and save taxpayers $9.5 million annually.

As Bruce Carter, chamber CEO, argues in a recent news release, "Our lower levels of government continue to struggle with limited funding to deal with the problem, and in the meantime, the doorsteps of business are becoming the homes for an increasing number of people in need. It is unacceptable to continue the status quo approach because it's getting us nowhere."

The Homeless Needs Survey, which was conducted last spring, found that there were at least 1,242 people in the capital region who were homeless or unstably housed, that is, who could become homeless at any time.

Contrary to the myth that Canada's poor are flocking to Victoria, most of these unlucky people are from our hometown and just can't afford a place to stay or need some help to maintain housing.

According to the survey, three-quarters of people surviving without a home were previously housed in the capital region. A further 16 per cent were from elsewhere in B.C., mostly from Duncan and Vancouver. About 20 per cent of the people at the Streetlink emergency shelter have regular jobs but no homes.

Some people think we are wasting money when we help our most needy neighbours.

In fact the opposite is true. According to B.C. government research, it costs $12,000 more a year to keep someone on the street than to provide them with a modest home and some support. Multiply that by the number of people who are absolutely homeless in the capital region -- at least 791 individuals -- and you get a staggering $9.5 million wasted every year to allow people to be homeless.

Hard to believe? Consider the hidden costs of homelessness. During the Homeless Needs Survey we learned that 33 per cent of those surveyed had used a hospital emergency room in the previous three months and that nine per cent had stayed in a hospital bed in the previous month. In the general population, only 12 per cent access emergency room services each year.

Hospital beds are very expensive, running about $1,000 or more per night. Providing supported housing, a place where one can recover, gain health and better connect with society, costs about the same for an entire month.

When you factor in the costs associated with health care, the justice system, social services and business losses, you don't have to be an economist or a rocket scientist to realize that doing the right thing is also the most economical choice for our community.

Together we are working on only a few, small initiatives to make a difference. Tragically we are not doing enough and the results are plain for everyone to see.

It isn't "new services" encouraging homelessness but the high cost of housing and the challenges of maintaining housing if you are mentally ill, head injured or battling a debilitating disease such as an addiction or disability.

We need more action and less blaming. It's time to move forward to end homelessness in the Capital Regional District and make our community everything we want and need it to be for everyone living in our beautiful, generous Garden City.

Rev. Al Tysick is chairman of the Downtown Service Providers Committee, whose 21 members meet monthly to share ideas and strategize around solutions to Victoria's social issues.

Read his first line again "walking downtown can be a scary experience." No sh&t you say. I love how he qualifies it though. I actually agree with what he has to say. I too think it's time for our downtown community to be "everything we want and need it to be for everyone in our beautiful, generous Garden City."

So that means I shouldn't be scared when I walk downtown by aggressive panhandling. I expect you, Rev Al, to support my petition to ban panhandling like we banned smoking, like, almost everywhere. In my petition the only place where panhandlers can ply their trade will be in front of Streetlink and Our Place. (OK that reads a little harsh. I support the good work that the good Reverend does and mean no slight, I'm just feeling a bit miffed that while he dismisses Geoff's statements he offers little in the way of alternative suggestions.)

I also want to highlight the statement by Bruce Carter: "It is unacceptable to continue the status quo approach because it's getting us nowhere." The status quo is getting us nowhere and Rev Al your whole letter is about maintaining the status quo which is "We need more action and less blaming. It's time to move forward to end homelessness in the Capital Regional District..." Are you suggesting we build supported subsidized housing in the second most expensive city in Canada? Because that makes very little sense for EVERYONE involved.

Why not suggest that we create a plan that provides supported, subsidized housing in say, Sayward, or Port Alberni or any number of struggling towns on the Island or in the interior that would welcome both the jobs and building that will help their local economies while providing tax-conscious service delivery for the province (read lower priced housing options for both the people living in the housing and those who will have to work for the relatively low-wages those jobs pay)? It would also remove some addicts and other "ill" people from the major source of their "chronic conditions."

Link to open thread on Victoria Real Estate Happenings (please keep posting your anecdotes).


Tony Danza said...

Quote: "Why not suggest that we create a plan that provides supported, subsidized housing in say, Sayward, or Port Alberni or any number of struggling towns on the Island or in the interior..."

Why not send the homeless to a deserted Island off the west coast and turn it into a reality TV show? The ad revenues would pay for the whole project!

HHV check out the following article at the Boston Globe regarding the Housing First program in that city:

The obvious downside to sending the homeless to somewhere like Port Hardy or wherever is that these people are for the most part ill. They are often drug addicted and many are mentally ill and up until the 1990's would have been housed in the Riverview facility on the lower mainland.

They still require services and like it or not are entitled to them in our society. How much do you think it would cost to hire support staff (Doctors, nurses, social workers, etc..) to work with these people in Port Wherever? Good luck with that recruitment campaign.
Taxpayers may want to consider what they used to pay to house these people in "institutions" compared to what they are paying today in terms of a lower perception of safety and subjection to panhandling.

We live in a democratic society where the stronger support the weaker in many cases. That may be one of the reasons our country is consistently ranked as one with the highest standard of living in the world despite our panhandling problem.

Drug addiction, mental illness, homelessness and less fortunates have been a part of society since the dawn of recorded history and the politics and economics of treating these ills is apparently zero sum.

Aleks said...

With all due respect, I'm pretty confident that Reverend Tysick understands the problem better than you do. And what he's talking about here is not the status quo. The status quo is for government to do nothing and leave it all up to charities like The Open Door which are not even remotely equipped to pick up the pieces.

What he's talking about is for government to step up and take care of the mentally ill so that that duty doesn't fall on our emergency rooms, where it costs far more.

I'm not sure what you think a ban on pan-handling would accomplish. What do you expect police to do, fine them? Put them in jail, which costs us how much per day? These are people with no money. If they can't panhandle, they're going to turn to real crime to pay for their addiction.

You're afraid to walk downtown now, because of "aggressive" panhandlers. How afraid will you be when the panhandlers start breaking into cars and mugging people?

And I'm really not sure what the deal is with people feeling afraid of panhandlers. Have you ever been threatened, physically accosted or put in any actual danger? I haven't. In fact, last week I walked by a couple of guys getting ready to shoot up on the steps as I was entering the library parkade (ironically, or perhaps fittingly, after I'd attended an investor's meeting hosted by Phillips Hager and North). They were very polite. I believe one of them wished us a good evening.

If anything, outlawing panhandling would maintain the status quo. It doesn't deal with the real problem, it's just an attempt to push the problem farther out of sight. But if you arrest people for panhandling, or just force them to commit other crimes and then arrest them for that, what have you really accomplished? Now they're in prison, which is like subsidized housing except way more expensive. And at the same time, police are wasting their efforts dealing with a social problem rather than doing actual police work, like trying to catch the drug kingpins who are pushing the stuff.

hhv said...

I knew that this post would raise a few eyebrows and perhaps the hairs on the back of a few necks. I'm willing to accept the consequences of that.

My "suggestions" were very much poorly thought out. I am not even remotely educated on the issues surrounding homelessness in Victoria beyond what is available in the MSM and that is very apparent. I'm simply looking at it from an economics perspective and suggesting that money be spent on wages to attract support workers, doctors and the other professionals into places where housing is substantially more affordable.

I do not believe that anything we've read in the past few weeks though is anything markedly different that what we read last year, with the exception of Geoff's letter. That was really the point of my rant.

If change is to come, we need to get on with it, as Al Tysick suggests. But simply looking at the government to fix things hasn't worked thus far.

Do people really believe that creating supported housing projects in Victoria will alleviate the problem here?

renter said...

i agree with aleks that the panhandlers have never seemed threatening to me. i've never once had an incident with any of them, and most of them wish me a nice day when i say 'no' to their requests for change. that said, there is always the potential for something to go wrong, but there is always the potential for all kinds of things to wrong. panhandlers in downtown victoria are an eyesore more than a threat. i'd say that the fact that there are needles lying about is the biggest (and most likely dangerous) worry.