What if the DTES ceased to exist?

That’s the question asked of mayoral candidates at a recent debate.

Peter Ladner from the NPA replied: “That’s the only solution.” He noted the city policy to protect the existing housing stock and then said we need to “mix in some other kind of housing to normalize that neighbourhood.”

Gregor Robinson from VISION said: “I worry when I hear what’s between the lines, when you use words like normalizing.” Gregor stressed that the Downtown Eastside isn’t just dysfunctional. “It’s already a community and they don’t necessarily want their neighbourhood transformed to some shiny happy new neighbourhood.” He said whatever plan is devised for the area, people who live there have to be part of it. “I don’t think there’s a solution that can be imposed by city hall. It’ll be a war zone if that’s what happens.” Ultimately, he said, “we need to see change but it has to be supportive.” He referred to the efforts that have been made by the group led by Milton Wong and Michael Clague who want help develop a  plan for the area that everyone in the community agrees with (most of the wording of this and below from Francis Bula’s blog).

Matthew, Terrance, Joan, June, Garvin, Terri, and I had reserved seats at the next debate.  In the quiet gaps between speakers, Terri would say loudly: “Will you pay for funerals of homeless people!??” Her question got a response but these questions did:

  • Would you continue Project Civil City? Peter: yes; Gregor: no.
  • The current mix of low-income to home owners in the DTES is 75/25. Should it stay at that level? Gregor: Yes, around there with input from the community; Peter: No, it should change.

§ The city currently has two supervised-injection sites. Do you support a third one along the model of Insite, which has treatment and transitional housing on site? Gregor: Yes. Peter: I’m leaving that up to the health authority to decide. (He was told he had to answer yes or no.) No.

  • There are several empty privately owned SROs. Do you support having the city meet with the owners to try to convince them to lease their rooms out temporarily? Gregor: Yes. Peter – Yes (This question is a result of CCAP’s research into # of DTES empty rooms. Peter changed his answer from “No” a few weeks ago on CBC radio).
  • What will you do about people sleeping on the streets? Peter: “I don’t think the city should jump in and build shelters. Our taxpayers cannot do everything. We need to be strategic and thoughtful.” Gregor: “I don’t think there’s anything strategic or thoughtful about forcing people to sleep outside. We can make space for hundreds and hundreds of people. I would like to see a whole lot more energy and effort put into dealing with the short-term crisis.”
  • Why do you (Ladner) keep saying the NPA has created 3,800 housing units when that’s not true?

Monte Paulsen from the Tyee asked this question and used CCAP’s analysis and leaked memo from City Hall to break it down.  He said 900 rooms are in existing hotels, another 900 units started under the previous council, and 1,100 units underway now might never get funded.  Peter answered that hotels are important and Min. Coleman promised the money would come.

  • What will you do to push for Little Mountain (social housing project on Main and 33rd that will be redeveloped like Woodwards)? (This is a question that relates to the DTES, if you consider our “amenities” are worth mega $$$$ (CRAB, proximity to downtown, historic buildings).  Peter said the city has been promised $75 million by the provincial government from the profits from condos at that site to invest anywhere it likes to create social housing. It should be invested away from there so as to get the most housing for the money, since that development, which is close to Queen Elizabeth Park and other attractive amenities, will be too expensive. Gregor asked where the “other places” are that social housing is going to go and said he was worried the NPA will only want to put social housing in places that are less desirable and away from the kinds of services that other residents get to enjoy.

Much more was said. Gregor promised to end street-homelessness by 2014 (that’s 2190 more days outside.) Ladner said, perhaps the city should look into building temporary modular housing on social housing sites that won’t be built out for years more.

Underlying the debate was an opening story from the Minister at First United who said a homeless man slashed his wrists in the church bathroom. Luckily someone spotted blood flowing under the door and stopped the man from dying.  Later the man apologized for causing so much trouble. He said, “Life on the streets just isn’t something I can do any longer, I didn’t want to kill myself on the street where no one would know, no one would care. This church felt like home.”