Weeks after two homeless facilities opened on the west edge of Yaletown, a petition calling for their removal is more than halfway to its goal of 1,000 signatures.
“Get them out of this neighbourhood—it doesn’t make sense,” said Veronica Madore, a founding member of the North False Creek Business and Residents Association, the group that launched the campaign.
She told the Straight that residents’ main concern is the “drugs and crime that follows”.
But the Vancouver Police Department has not recorded any increases in crime in the areas surrounding the two new facilities. According to Const. Brian Montague, the site at 1335 Howe Street recorded five calls over the course of the past month while the shelter at 900 Pacific Street saw only two.
“It’s really not a lot,” the VPD spokesperson told the Straight by phone. “We might see that in an average apartment building in the West End.”
Montague stressed that it is “really hard” to describe trends for such a short time line. But he added that, for now, statistics that would indicate a spike in crime related to the shelters do not exist.
He noted a number of factors could account for the discrepancy from petition signatories’ perceptions. “A lot of the things that residents might be upset about, we might never hear about because they are not criminal in nature or, for some other reason, are not being reported,” Montague said.
Madore described the city’s efforts to provide shelter as “well-intended” but argued that new facilities in Yaletown are not the answer to the city's homeless problem.
“This is not a long-term solution for the homeless, throwing them into different locations all over the city, whatever happens to be available, without the support systems that they need,” Madore said.
She described the Downtown Eastside is a more suitable location on account of the concentration of social services there.
“They do have a community there,” Madore said. “Yes, the drugs and the crime are there. But so are all of those social services where there is already millions of dollars being spent. Why aren’t these millions of dollars [going to new shelters] fixing up those housing units [in the Downtown Eastside] so that these folks can live there and be supported by everything that we’re already paying for?”
Wes Regan, executive director of the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association, said the Downtown Eastside is proving businesses can thrive alongside the delivery of support for marginalized groups. As evidence, Regan pointed to social enterprises like Mission Possible that help people find employment while transitioning out of homelessness.
At the same time, Regan argued, his neighbourhood cannot support Vancouver’s homeless population on its own. “We need to take responsibility across the city for this issue and not just hoist it on nonprofits in the Downtown Eastside,” he said. “If we try and concentrate all of this in one part of the city, as we are seeing, it becomes untenable.”
Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang acknowledged Yaletown residents’ concerns, but he told the Straight that he hears the same complaints every time the city opens a shelter for the homeless.
Citing community consultation conducted one year after the opening of a shelter at 3475 East Hastings, he said that what was an initial uproar has all but entirely subsided.
“There’s fear,” he suggested. “When we have an opportunity to meet with the residents, find out what the problem is, what they’re scared of, and we put measures in place to take care of those fears, then things go fine. And that’s what we’re doing at these [Yaletown] facilities.”