Tyee gives props to New West recovery centre

The Tyee’s got a great list of 50 ways to help the homeless, building on Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson’s pledge to end (!) homelessness in Vancouver by 2015.

New Westminster is mentioned twice:

8.) Lobby for treatment funding in private, and put the spotlight on alternative treatment in public. Check out Vancouver Coastal Health’s innovative DayTox program, and take a look at one of the more successful private recovery houses, such as The Last Door in New Westminster.


39.) Invite the neighbours. Include representatives from Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster, Surrey, the Langleys and the North Shore communities in everything Vancouver does. “And every so often,” one local activist noted, “Mayor Robertson needs to lean over and say to Mayor Corrigan, ‘So, you’re going to do some of these projects too, aren’t you?'”

As everyone here knows, homelessness is also a major issue in New Westminster. One would hope that Robertson’s gang would not pronounce homelessness ‘ended’ if it simply pushed people outside of Vancouver proper and out towards New West, Burnaby, and other areas of the Lower Mainland. This is truly an issue that should be addressed at a regional level.

Lots of good ideas in this piece (Thanks Tyee!). Here are some of the ones that stood out for me:

2.) Ask property owners to help. Make an offer to the owner of every closed hotel or shuttered apartment building in the city: Lease your building for use by BC Housing and/or a non-profit housing manager for a period of at least three years, and the city will both give you a tax break and allow your development application to proceed without interruption.

13.) Dedicate more women-only buildings and programs. Women endure daily intimidation and frequent assault inside shelters and residential hotels. Besides, there are already far more men-only programs.

14.) Provide meals. At the end of a pilot project in which meals were delivered daily throughout one Downtown Eastside residential hotel, residents reported using fewer drugs — and most had gained weight. 

23.) Seize grow-ops. Just as some law enforcement agencies seize vehicles, explore the possibility of seizing grow-ops and drug houses, renovating them, and converting them to rooming houses. Let the former owners sue for the value of the (usually trashed) property seized. 

25.) Detox on demand. No matter what shape a new treatment landscape assumes, detox for everyone who wants it will play a part. The city needs to partner with agencies and NGOs to create more spaces immediately. 

32.) Provide housing after treatment. Perhaps the most shameful gap in the housing safety net is the one many addicts fall through after they get clean, as they are returned to the same sort of social housing in which they used.

33.) Replace Riverview: 275 beds were slated to be replaced by recovery units throughout the city. In the years we’ve spent waiting, the need has grown to the point more may be required. Ideally, these would be built as small supportive facilities scattered throughout the city 

New Westminster needs to prioritize homelessness just as Vancouver has. We have a homelessness coalition and strategy, but there are still far too many people living on the streets or in substandard conditions here. I am hopeful that our lone new councillor Jaimie McEvoy will bring his passion for this issue to city hall and continue to advocate on behalf of the marginalized there, just as he has as project coordinator at Shiloh’s Hospitality Project .

While we’re on the topic of homelessness and poverty, I wanted to remind everyone to take some time to donate to organizations that help alleviate this suffering while we celebrate during the holidays. New Westminster’s Food Bank is administered at Shiloh, and you can donate there or online. The Food Bank says it can stretch $1 into $3 through bulk buying and supplier relationships, so it’s worthwhile donating even small amounts of cash instead of cans. Or, support Union Gospel Mission’s annual Christmas dinner: $32.90 will feed and care for 10 people in our community this Christmas.

Homelessness in New West

Council candidate Lynda Fletcher-Gordon has provided a link to a PDF file with some stats on homelessness in New Westminster. She and Jaimie McEvoy have been the candidates who have, in my opinion, placed the most emphasis on the issue in our city so far. 

Both candidates have a track record in this area. Fletcher-Gordon is the Executive Director of the Purpose Society and she and McEvoy are involved in the Homelessness Society, which produced the report I’ve linked to above.

Some interesting facts from the report: 
  • Homelessness has increased by about 35% in New West compared to the 2005 count (it has increased throughout the GVRD)
  • 58% of the homeless who were counted in 2008 were living on the streets
  • 74% are men (slightly above the regional average of 72%)
  • 27% identify as aboriginal (slightly below the regional average of 32%)
Vancouver-wide stats: 
  • 48% of the people counted were homeless for a year or longer;
  • 80% lived in the municipality where they were counted for one year or more;
  • 71% considered their ‘home’ to be in Metro Vancouver;
  • 61% reported an addiction problem;1
  • 33% reported a mental illness.
Top three reasons for being homeless (as identified by the homeless in the GVRD):
  • Lack of income (25%)
  • High cost of housing (19%) 
  • Addiction problems (17%) – interesting note:  68% of the street homeless reported an addiction problem compared to 48% of the sheltered homeless.
  • Establish a homelessness resource centre with programs and facilities focused on addiction recovery, employment assistance, medical services and life skills training
  • Create additional spaces in transition housing for women and children fleeing abuse (estimated demand is 3-4 times available space)
  • Create social housing spaces for single adults (the majority of social housing projects currently focus on families, people with disabilities and seniors)
  • Improve access to addiction and mental health services

A case study of hope

Like many other places in the Lower Mainland, New Westminster has a homelessness problem. The problem isn’t just a lack of money for shelter, of course. Many, if not most, of the people huddled in doorways on Carnarvon and shuffling along Columbia are also struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

These people can be very scary. The worst of them are so full of rage that it boils around them.

This is the story of one such angry woman, called “Crow.” She took out her pain on both friends and foes until the day she turned her life around, calmed down and got clean.

She didn’t do it alone. New West Union Gospel Mission volunteers persisted through her black moods and their efforts were not wasted.

When she came for a free meal at the UGM, she was offered more than soup and sandwiches by her angels.

Eventually they helped her realize her spirit was starving. Drugs and alcohol were her way of numbing the pain she secretly felt.

“Most alcoholic-addicts are spiritually starving because of the trauma they suffered in their lives. Most of us escape that trauma through alcohol and drugs so we don’t have to feel, we don’t have to remember, we don’t have to do anything,” she said, surveying the crowded New Westminster mission following a pancake breakfast.

As she speaks, there’s a violent outburst from a man who’s come to eat, perhaps because he’s missed the meal.

“That used to be me,” said Lagarde, who describes herself as an animal when she lived on the streets.

It’s reassuring to hear of examples like this, of people who seemed hopeless and yet came through on the other side. And it’s a good reminder that those of us who are lucky enough to have opportunities others lacked need to overcome apathy and give back.