Vancouver’s mayor and a business advocacy group have credited emergency homeless shelters for reducing incidents of panhandling and trespassing downtown.
According to new statistics, incidents of panhandling dropped in December to 129 from an average of 312 per month for September to November.
The figures also show trespassing incidents dropped to 20 in December from 170 on average for the previous three months.
The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association statistics were highlighted today (January 6) in a news release from Mayor Gregor Robertson’s office.
“Our emergency homeless shelters don’t just help people on the street, they also provide benefits to the city as a whole,” Robertson says in the release.
Charles Gauthier, the business association’s executive director, says the shelters are working.
“Our members have seen a significant change on our streets, ranging from less people sleeping outside, to a reduction in panhandling and trespassing, since the shelters opened,” Gauthier says in the release.
Doug King, a Pivot Legal Society housing campaigner, welcomed the support for the shelters.
“It’s encouraging to see that they’re coming to the same conclusion that we’ve been saying for years, which is that we need more shelter space, we need more housing,” King told the Straight today by phone.
“And yeah, it is common sense that if you put together a strategy that puts that in place there’s going to be positive effects for society,” he added.
But King questioned how much credit the shelters should receive for the drop in panhandling and trespassing.
“We have a feeling it’s not just as simple as that,” he said. “It’s not just homeless shelters. It’s a piece of the puzzle.”
King suggested the annual Hope In Shadows charity could have provided an alternative income source in December to people who typically panhandle.
Supported by Pivot, the program gives low-income and homeless people a chance to profit by selling calendars that feature photography of the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.
Four temporary emergency winter shelters opened in late November and early December in Mount Pleasant, Kitsilano, Downtown South, and the West End.
They provide around 160 shelter spaces and are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week until April.
The B.C. government is providing $1.5 million for operation of the shelters while the city is putting $500,000 toward work on the buildings.
More than 1,200 additional shelter spaces are available in Vancouver through the city’s Homeless Emergency Action Team program, the provincially funded Emergency Shelter Program, and the Extreme Weather Response Program.
Pivot is embroiled in a case before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal against the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and city over the Downtown Ambassadors Program. A decision in the case is expected in spring.