I originally created this post back in June 2019 but for some reason it ended up in the drafts instead of being published. Since then my speaking out on this issue has resulted in so much aggravation on social media from those who disagree with that I’ve had to tender my resignation from broadcasting / streaming city council. Before it goes too far and people go after my partners business or engage in criminal mischief like they have with the Mayor of our town. (those links may stop working later in 2020 once the hosting runs out on my gftv.ca site and if I decide not to carry on with it)
I’ve been reading this HuffPost article Why America Can’t Solve Homelessness. Hobbes has brought some ideas to my awareness. One of them is the topic of the post.
As the economy has come out of the Great Recession, America’s unhoused population has exploded almost exclusively in its richest and fastest-growing cities. Between 2012 and 2018, the number of people living on the streets declinedby 11 percent nationwide — and surged by 26 percent in Seattle, 47 percent in New York City and 75 percent in Los Angeles. Even smaller cities, like Reno and Boise, have seen spikes in homelessness perfectly coincide with booming tech sectors and falling unemployment. from the HuffPost article Why America Can’t Solve Homelessness
In other words, homelessness is no longer a symbol of decline. It is a product of prosperity. And unlike Eric, the vast majority of people being pushed out onto the streets by America’s growing urban economies do not need dedicated social workers or intensive medication regimes. They simply need higher incomes and lower housing costs.
In my 13 years of covering local politics I’ve seen various topics become the major fire under council’s butts. Heavy handed dealing with volunteer organisations. The Deer Problem. Is Garbage Collection really a function of the City? The Universal Residential Water Meters. The Homeless.
Even though our town was hit by the worst flood in its history last year (2018) it’s really that last one, The Homeless, that is the major problem council is taking heat over at this time. This problem was inherited from the previous council in that it was already a hot topic before last fall’s election. And had been the major issue bugging the town and council in these first two years of its 4 year term.
The previous council’s way of dealing with the problem posed by the persistent homeless camps along the river and rising friction between the more scary homeless and the public was to evict the main support they had, soup kitchen / thrift store and bad weather shelter, from the city owned property they occupied. And then tear the building down leaving the non-profit society to fend for itself and find a new location. Simple solution to a complex problem. Except it didn’t solve anything – we still have the homeless. The druggies. The petty thievery.
And rising affluence isn’t just transforming the economic factors that cause homelessness. It is also changing the politics of the cities tasked with solving it. Across the country, as formerly poor neighborhoods have gentrified, politicians are facing increasingly strident calls to criminalize panhandling and bulldoze tent encampments. While city residents consistently tell pollsters that they support homeless services in principle, specific proposals to build shelters or expand services face vociferous local opposition.
Gee – let’s see: I was just reading about a nearby town, Penticton, bringing in stricter bylaws about hanging about and in the article they referred to a recent panhandling bylaw, Bulldozing tent encampments – we just take them down but bulldoze the soup kitchen and shelter. We have the last bit too – more on that coming up,
In our Canadian government system there are governmental entities called Crown Corporations. They are funded by taxpayers. They have mandates. Unlike other parts of the government, such as departments of the various government ministries, a Crown Corp. enjoys certain exemptions. They are on a mandated mission for the Crown and under our parliamentary system the Crown is the head of government. (we have a Queen even though she’s in another country on the other side of the ocean). So they can, and do, behave in a ‘my boss beats your boss’ way when it comes to other members of government.
In my province, British Columbia, there is a crown corporation called BC Housing. It’s mandate is housing for the people of BC. Shelters. Low-income housing. Supportive housing. Transition Houses. People who need it but cannot afford it.
Last year BC Housing responded to the needs of Grand Forks with two housing projects.
One was to provide a little over 50 low income housing spaces. A whole chunk of our town has been told that their properties are going to be bought out. And the land go back to being flood plane. A certain number of the people who lost almost everything last year are low or fixed income. The cost of buying a new house are beyond many. Two years ago they had a house. This year they’re living in trailers or rentals (if they can find them) or doshing down on a friend’s couch or squatting in a house that will eventually go away. The city would like to retain as many taxpayers and spenders as possible. But housing was a problem before and rentals very very scarce. They are there but all full up.
The other BC Housing project is Supportive Housing for the Homeless.
Both projects have gotten a lot of push back though the supportive housing has created the biggest waves. If you read the HuffPost article at the top you’ll remember that this push-back happens everywhere.
People have been offended by the way BC Housing went about the whole process. They employed a numbered company and used an out of town real estate agent to represent the buyer. So the seller had no knowledge of who they were selling to.
BC Housing says that this is because if they were open about their plans inevitably the prices for the properties they desire would get jacked up. That sounds like a valid reason. But I think there’s more to it than that . . . I think that they’d rather side step the onerous and interminable process of public consultation and angry recriminations that would ensue.
Some on City Council felt offended that BC Housing did not consult them. The public feels like they should have had a say as well.
Let’s see how that would go: BC Housing says they want to put in a Supportive Housing project that would house 40 homeless people. Almost immediately the rumours and predictions and scary scenarios would pervade social media. People would start to hammer local politicians with questions about the project. Where will it be? – not in our backyard. Who would be there? – druggies and criminals. Who would pay for all this? – and why all this money for losers? Won’t they bring in druggies from other towns if they can’t fill the beds with the ones from here?
As more and more people’s fears are stoked the more pressure city council will get. I’ve seen the way people treat council and it’s not pretty. They do not understand how it works. Or what council has power over and what it has no power over. If a government is doing something people don’t like then the closest government gets the treatment.
Unlike Provincial or Federal politicians city councillors live in the communities they govern. People can stop them on the street, in the checkout line or anywhere and start questioning. Or complaining. Or threatening – meaning no more votes for you. And most local politicians stand alone without the backup of a political party.
So local politicians are much more amenable to public opinion and petitions and town hall gripe sessions. Savvy civil servants know this. So if you were in the position of BC Housing with a mandate to get x number of housing projects / units done in a given time period then why would you engage with the local political process knowing it will likely bog down and get ugly?
I hear many of the arguments against it. One type in particular I find curious. It goes something like “we’re such a soft touch that they hear about it an come here. Other towns send their problem people here to our town.”
No matter how many times people who are in a position to know the real facts explain the fallacies in those statements the message does not get through. When they say most of the homeless are people who grew up here, that it’s a small cohort that are the real problem . . . either they are not believed or it doesn’t stick.
I’ve heard the local RCMP detachment head say twice that most of the homeless we have are from here and yet people keep ignoring that. Even politicians. When the Mayor mentioned that the bulk of those served by the soup kitchen were poor and elderly and not the thieving-drug-monkeys (not his term but one locals have coined) the gallery loudly scoffed. As if he was joking or telling a lie. When the BC Housing director for a big chunk of the interior of the province told the public that she hears the same fearful mistaken impressions in almost every city she serves it was clear that half the crowd did not believe her.
It’s a relatively easy thing to check on. And if you just watch the national news you’ll see homelessness is a serious problem very many places. But people insist on holding onto the mistaken idea that somehow we’re extra specially bad.
It is true that the homeless have become more of a visible problem in the past while.
I often encounter the idea that the druggies are leaving used needles in public spaces such as playgrounds and parks. Where the unwary can get jabbed.
Perversely many of the same people who pass that horror story on will also express shock and revulsion that the city has put sharps disposal containers in places downtown. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money they say. It will somehow make the problem worse , , , maybe emboldening the needle users.
When I point out that there were sharps disposal containers posted in public spaces back in 2004 before this latest crush of homeless I get blank stares. Or “See!” as if it backs up their argument somehow.
Every needle places in a disposal container is one that isn’t laying in wait in the grass. (had to point that out to our previous Mayor) But logic doesn’t appear to apply.
This has been a long winded preamble to the topic of the post. Thanks for bearing with me so far. I’m getting to it.
I’ve been turning that idea over in my head. It’s caused me to reflect on some of the things I’ve seen in my life and heard about in history.
The first big Stock Market Crash of 1929 was caused by smart money speculators pumping the values of stocks up because they could. Because so many naive members of the public were putting their money into stocks. And then the smart money was dumping those stocks when they could reap the best profit. Doing this in such a way that the knock-on effect caused a run on the banks which couldn’t withstand that. Artificially valued stocks devalued over a few hours and millions lost everything.
Back in 2008 we had another event instigated by the financial services segment of the economy. Huge collections of crap mortgages were incorrectly valued as good mortgages and used as financial underpinnings for businesses and fortunes. When those mortgages began to fail, as was inevitable given the greedy way the whole thing was done, many people lost billions of dollars.
We’re now learning about how the pharmaceutical industry has been ruining the lives of millions with opiods because it’s profitable to do so. From the makers to the national distributors to the politicians it’s clear that laws will be broken if it means profits will be made. And if people are getting addicted and lives are being ruined in the process they are just roadkill on the path to more profits. CBS 60 minutes lays out how conniving by big pharma enabled a drug like Oxy to be relabelled into a category that helped to create the opiod crisis the USA is in now. You might not be able to view the video but the text is pretty explanatory.
Not long ago I watched a Fifth Estate piece, Kickbacks Caught On Camera, about how most pharmaceutical reps and pharmacies in the largest province in the country regularly break a law that says kickbacks are illegal. That drives the price of medicine up.
Recently I watched a 60 minutes piece on a price fixing scheme where the biggest Generic Drug makers conspired to drive the prices of some medicines up by hundreds of percent. The term I remember from that is that these companies had become “Too Big To Care” about the ultimate user.
I hear about how the USA doesn’t like that China has played a game where companies doing business there were obligated to share their expertise and tech with their Chinese counterparts. The companies complained to US embassy and government officials but didn’t want them to push the topic too much because they didn’t want to be shut out. This kind of technology theft by coercion is one of the problems the USA has with China. It could have been head off decades ago by forcing China to play fair but that wouldn’t work for Big Business so it was left alone.
Time and time again we learn about how Big Business is caught screwing the system. Engaging in criminal behaviour, damaging behaviour, hurtful behaviour – all in the name of profit.
Add to that the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. The downward pressure on the middle class.
Real Estate prices are rising fast. Vancouver BC has become one of the most expensive cities to live in in the whole world. Families with both parents employed find it hard for afford property. Some families are living with other families as room mates just so they can have a house.
Vancouver and Toronto have been drivers of house pricing in Canada over the past few decades. Price rises in these cities eventually are followed by rises in smaller markets.
But now we learn that a significant driver of pricing in Vancouver has been money laundering. Not just in the real estate market but also in government regulated casinos. Apparently for a number of years people could show up with bags of cash – literal bags of cash – and the casino would take it in and later on pay money back. Clean money. And when regulatory agents reported and warned about this nothing happened. Action was stifled at a high, political, level. Because someone was making a profit somewhere.
So those who are really rich, and some who work for them, manipulate the system in ways that enrich them but impoverish everyone else. It’s a game that only the wealthy can play without suffering.
I can see how people have a problem with Capitalism. While it might rightfully be the Capitalists that are the problem the system is the way they want it to be. Because they can afford to make it that way.
So how do you fix that?
Well for homelessness you might look to Finland.