Closed nursing home (background) located across the street from Christ Church Cathedral elementary school in downtown Victoria is being converted to a 'low barrier' shelter for tent campers.

BC VIEWS: Housing czar defends drug ghettos

Housing Minister Rich Coleman brushes off criticism of shelters and 'low barrier' housing for drug-addicted street people

Housing Minister Rich Coleman was flabbergasted at the angry response to his solution to the Victoria courthouse “tent city,” the latest tarp-covered camp to spring up in southern B.C.

Coleman announced two temporary shelters with three meals a day and medical supports. One is a former nursing home close to the courthouse squat, conveniently located near panhandling and drug dealing spots as well as taxpayer-funded services. The other offers indoor or outdoor tent space at a former youth custody centre, with a dedicated downtown shuttle bus so these “victims” of “homelessness” don’t have to endure B.C.’s most generous transit bus system.

We weren’t consulted, said the indignant spokespeople for those bringing new-looking tents to take advantage of food and other handouts, offered in B.C.’s warmest climate by the province’s most naïve local government.

But this was just a show for the media by our resident professional protesters, some of whom aren’t really “homeless.”

After the reaction, which Coleman described as “bizarre,” the combined 88 housing opportunities are being snapped up. Those on welfare will have to fork over their $375 monthly housing allowance, as the province continues to convert more housing and offer more rent subsidies.

It’s no wonder that southern B.C. is the destination of choice. Coleman said it’s always been a seasonal thing, but this winter has been the highest in a decade, largely due to an exodus of economic migrants from the downturn in Alberta, naturally heading for B.C.’s most desirable real estate.

I asked him about two other homeless hotspots. In Abbotsford, campers have ignored a city deadline to take down structures in a three-year-old camp, after temporary shelter and costly provincial supports were brought on. A courtroom and street confrontation looms with self-styled “drug war survivors” and their Vancouver legal help.

In Maple Ridge, a tent camp sprang up next to the local Salvation Army shelter, with people cycling through the shelter’s 15-day limit, camping and being fed until they could go back in.

Mayor Nicole Read, who has worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, said Maple Ridge took on its own outreach, shelter and housing effort because the province’s $1 million-a-year Salvation Army operation isn’t working.

Coleman is not amused. He said he’s had no complaints about Abbotsford’s Salvation Army shelter, and Read is the only one griping. And no mayor is going to tell him how to spend provincial dollars. Maple Ridge now has two shelters with accompanying street drugs, prostitution and crime.

I asked Coleman about the 10-year-study led by Simon Fraser University researcher Julian Somers on the housing, outreach and services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This is the heart of B.C.’s “housing first” strategy, where the province has bought and renovated 30 “single room occupancy” buildings, built another dozen and poured in every possible support, including the buyout of high-living executives at the Portland Hotel Society.

The study found that the hardest cases are worse off than ever, based on court, hospital and other service records, while the influx to the notorious Vancouver drug ghetto have tripled in 10 years.

“I haven’t had a chance to go over that report yet, but I disagree with the assumption I’ve heard already, because I walk the Downtown Eastside,” Coleman said. “I don’t know if they do every few weeks to a month, but I’ve been doing it for about nine or 10 years and I can tell you it’s a whole lot better down there.”

The question is whether problems are being solved, or just better hidden from view.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Severe storm warning remains in effect for the Kootenays

Two special weather statements have been issued for the West Kootenay

Update: Suspect in Montrose gas station stabbing new to the area

Police say the 30-year-old suspect stabbed a Montrose gas station employee

‘I knew what he wanted’: Man recalls black bear chasing him up tree in Slocan Valley

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

RDKB launches survey to address housing needs in the district

Communities in the district include Trail, Grand Forks, Rossland and Fruitvale

No passenger flights at West Kootenay Regional Airport until at least September

This is the third time Air Canada has announced changes to flight operations out of the airport

Minimum wage goes up June 1 in B.C. as businesses face COVID-19 challenges

The minimum wage jumps by 75 cents to $14.60 an hour on Monday

Protesters prepare to rally against racism in front of Vancouver Art Gallery

Rally is in response to the deaths of black Americans and a Toronto woman

Protesters rally against anti-black, Indigenous racism in Toronto

Police estimated the crowd to be between 3,500 and 4,000 and said there was no violence

Feds earmark $1.5M to support recovery of B.C., Indigenous tourism

B.C. money will be split between Vancouver Island and Indigenous tourism

‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.

Tens of thousands marched to protest the death of George Floyd

Join Kootenay family in virtual walk for Ronald McDonald House

“We always described it as our oasis in the middle of the desert,” Brigitte Ady shares.

Surrey mayor’s party under fire for ‘sickening’ tweet accusing northern B.C. RCMP of murder

Mayor Doug McCallum says tweet, Facebook post ‘sent out by unauthorized person’

Father’s Day Walk Run for prostate cancer will be virtual event this year throughout B.C.

The annual fundraiser for Prostate Cancer Foundation BC has brought in $2.5 million since 1999

Most Read