Vancouver police Chief Jamie Graham has painted a dismal picture of what life is like for homeless people in Vancouver. In a February 21 presentation to North Vancouver District Council, Graham claimed that 80 percent of shelterless people suffer from severe depression, which robs them of hope and makes them very difficult to motivate. He also alleged that the shelterless are always afraid except when high, and will often become violent when roused while resting.
"They are beaten [and] kicked awake while sleeping," he said. "They have their ID and photos of their children stolen. They're robbed of money by their friends. They watched their friends die of overdoses."
He also suggested that homeless are often irritable because of blood-sugar swings caused by eating starchy foods high in fat and sugar. In addition, he claimed they are usually sleep-deprived, constantly face trauma, and frequently exhibit symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. "Most homeless people carry weapons all the time," Graham alleged.
The police chief cited statistics suggesting that 30 percent experience chronic psychosis, and this doesn't include those whose conditions are induced by methamphetamines or cocaine. He said that some of the most dedicated people in the "war" against homelessness are young police officers, who provide care and assistance to people in the streets and to people living in Stanley Park. He added that in the city's downtown core, 15 to 20 percent of the homeless are francophones. (For a transcript of Graham's presentation, click here.)
Graham appeared before North Vancouver District Council to respond to allegations that Vancouver police were dumping the homeless on the North Shore. Last year, some North Vancouver District residents alleged that the VPD deposited Vancouver street people and panhandlers in the Seymour, Maplewood, and Inter-River areas of the district late at night. Last month, North Vancouver District Council passed a motion, introduced by Coun. Ernie Crist, calling upon Mayor Janice Harris to write a letter to Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell to address these claims.
Shortly before Graham spoke, Crist told the Straight that staff and councillors have received complaints about "an inordinately large number of homeless people and panhandlers" in the district. Crist said he doesn't believe that Graham has told his officers to deposit them on the North Shore, but he suggested that police officers who want to make their boss look good will do this.
"What can the police do?" Crist said. "Their hands are tied because our judicial system is a farce."
Graham, however, told council that he adamantly rejected any suggestion that Vancouver police were dumping homeless people in the district. He acknowledged that police are authorized to take people into custody under the Criminal Code for a "criminal breach of the peace" or "an anticipated breach of the peace". In these circumstances, Graham said, police have legal authority to take people to a quieter area and drop them off without a criminal charge being laid.
"The Vancouver police has a rigid policy," Graham said. "We do not breach people into any other municipality other than Vancouver."
In a question-and-answer session, North Vancouver District Coun. Richard Walton said he wondered if it was possible or even likely that police officers' frustration led to "rogue action". Graham responded that as the former commanding officer of RCMP detachments in North Vancouver and Surrey and as the current chief of the VPD, he could not recall a single instance of an individual being taken into custody on a breach and then being dropped off in another municipality.
"We are not a rogue police department," Graham said. "We're one of the most professional police departments in the world."
Graham was accompanied by Vancouver's coordinator of the tenant-assistance program, Judy Graves. She told council that prior to 2001, only 15 percent of the homeless on Vancouver streets were without welfare money. "Most of the people who were outside at the time were mentally ill," Graves said. "What we're seeing now is that 75 percent of the people who are in the street receive no money whatsoever for shelter or food and have little access to work."
Graves said there are now between 600 and 1,200 people living on the street in Vancouver. She said that on March 15, the Greater Vancouver Regional District will conduct its second-ever count of homeless people across the region.