Closed nursing home (background) located across the street from Christ Church Cathedral elementary school in downtown Victoria is being converted to a 'low barrier' shelter for tent campers.

Closed nursing home (background) located across the street from Christ Church Cathedral elementary school in downtown Victoria is being converted to a 'low barrier' shelter for tent campers.

BC VIEWS: Housing czar defends drug ghettos

Housing Minister Rich Coleman brushes off criticism of shelters and 'low barrier' housing for drug-addicted street people

Housing Minister Rich Coleman was flabbergasted at the angry response to his solution to the Victoria courthouse “tent city,” the latest tarp-covered camp to spring up in southern B.C.

Coleman announced two temporary shelters with three meals a day and medical supports. One is a former nursing home close to the courthouse squat, conveniently located near panhandling and drug dealing spots as well as taxpayer-funded services. The other offers indoor or outdoor tent space at a former youth custody centre, with a dedicated downtown shuttle bus so these “victims” of “homelessness” don’t have to endure B.C.’s most generous transit bus system.

We weren’t consulted, said the indignant spokespeople for those bringing new-looking tents to take advantage of food and other handouts, offered in B.C.’s warmest climate by the province’s most naïve local government.

But this was just a show for the media by our resident professional protesters, some of whom aren’t really “homeless.”

After the reaction, which Coleman described as “bizarre,” the combined 88 housing opportunities are being snapped up. Those on welfare will have to fork over their $375 monthly housing allowance, as the province continues to convert more housing and offer more rent subsidies.

It’s no wonder that southern B.C. is the destination of choice. Coleman said it’s always been a seasonal thing, but this winter has been the highest in a decade, largely due to an exodus of economic migrants from the downturn in Alberta, naturally heading for B.C.’s most desirable real estate.

I asked him about two other homeless hotspots. In Abbotsford, campers have ignored a city deadline to take down structures in a three-year-old camp, after temporary shelter and costly provincial supports were brought on. A courtroom and street confrontation looms with self-styled “drug war survivors” and their Vancouver legal help.

In Maple Ridge, a tent camp sprang up next to the local Salvation Army shelter, with people cycling through the shelter’s 15-day limit, camping and being fed until they could go back in.

Mayor Nicole Read, who has worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, said Maple Ridge took on its own outreach, shelter and housing effort because the province’s $1 million-a-year Salvation Army operation isn’t working.

Coleman is not amused. He said he’s had no complaints about Abbotsford’s Salvation Army shelter, and Read is the only one griping. And no mayor is going to tell him how to spend provincial dollars. Maple Ridge now has two shelters with accompanying street drugs, prostitution and crime.

I asked Coleman about the 10-year-study led by Simon Fraser University researcher Julian Somers on the housing, outreach and services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This is the heart of B.C.’s “housing first” strategy, where the province has bought and renovated 30 “single room occupancy” buildings, built another dozen and poured in every possible support, including the buyout of high-living executives at the Portland Hotel Society.

The study found that the hardest cases are worse off than ever, based on court, hospital and other service records, while the influx to the notorious Vancouver drug ghetto have tripled in 10 years.

“I haven’t had a chance to go over that report yet, but I disagree with the assumption I’ve heard already, because I walk the Downtown Eastside,” Coleman said. “I don’t know if they do every few weeks to a month, but I’ve been doing it for about nine or 10 years and I can tell you it’s a whole lot better down there.”

The question is whether problems are being solved, or just better hidden from view.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Toronto-based director Michelle Latimer was recently scrutinized after years of claiming she was of Algonquin and Metis descent. (CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
Haida activist calls for hefty fines, jail time against those who claim to be Indigenous

Filmmaker Tamara Bell proposing the Indigenous Identity Act – to dissuade ‘Indigenous identity theft’

Prince Rupert lawyer, Donald A. Silversides has been appointed to the BC Liberals Election Organizing Committee, announced the party on Jan 21. (Contributed photo)
Don Silversides appointed to BC Liberal election organizing committee

Prince Rupert lawyer is the current BC Liberals acting president

Brett Alexander Jones is wanted on several warrants province-wide, in connection with multiple charges. Jan. 21, 2021. Kitimat RCMP photo
Kitimat RCMP searching for man wanted on several warrants province-wide

Jones is described as a five-foot 10-inches Caucasian man, with blond hair and blue eyes.

Rose Sawka, a 91-year old Acropolis Manor resident received her COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 20, one day after an outbreak was declared at the long-term care facility. Her son Terry Sawka visited with her through the window, like she is seen in an Oct. 2020 photo. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Acropolis Manor COVID-19 cases jump to 20 confirmed

Prince Rupert long term care facility received vaccinations

Illicit drug use has spread in the Northern Health region and overdose emergency calls increased in Prince Rupert by 29.5 per cent from 2019 to 2020. (Photo:THE NEWS/files)
Overdose emergency calls in Prince Rupert spikes by 43.6 % in five years

Northern Health issues illicit drug use warnings

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Mowi Canada West’s Sheep Pass salmon farm, the company’s final B.C. operation to receive certification from the Aquaculture Steward Council. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) is questioning a government decision to phase out salmon farms in the Discovery Islands. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada West)
Canadian Federation of Agriculture backs B.C. salmon farmers

Letter to prime minister calls for federal “champion” for aquaculture growth

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Vancouver flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

Most Read