September 22, 2009

Vancouver seeks to jail homeless who refuse shelter; critics point to Olympics cleanup

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The British Columbia provincial government is backpedaling in the face of outrage over legislation it drafted allowing the jailing of homeless people who refuse shelter in severe weather.

A partial draft of the legislation leaked, prompting officials to take pains to explain that what got out was an early draft discussion paper and not a proposal, reports Jonathan Fowlie of The Vancouver Sun. It was prompted by the death of a homeless woman on the streets in a fire she was using to keep warm last winter, said Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman:

It’s about trying to get them [homeless people] to a place where we can show them what’s available so they can make a decision hopefully to not freeze. There’s no movement to say we’re going to take them to jail. There’s no movement to say we’re going to put them in a secure facility.

Critics charge that the move is intended to help clear the streets of undesirable people in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The city’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood houses hundreds of homeless people and has become an embarrassment to city and provincial officials.

For a taste of the criticism, dip into Harsha Walia’s post on the Sun’s Community of Interest page, which details how similar street-cleanings took place in Atlanta (which has *much* more dangerous neighborhoods than Vancouver) and other cities where past Olympics were held. Walia cites a report by the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions etitled “Fair Play for Housing Rights.” An AP story by Erica Bulman summarizes the report.

Update 3:50 p.m. : Whoops. I totally forgot to include this interesting Globe and Mail story that InvestigateWest intern Emily Linroth pointed out to me. Its about Homeless Nation, a website by and for homeless people. Its founder, Janelle Kelly, who works in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, says access to the internet is a basic need for homeless people.

The story by Karen Pinchin goes on to describe two other innovative projects aimed at helping homeless people: Project CARE, which gives them a voicemailbox, and Homeless Hub, a site that “created a virtual environment of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that will help researchers study how urban design affects human behaviour,” Pinchin reports.

— Robert McClure

One thought on “Vancouver seeks to jail homeless who refuse shelter; critics point to Olympics cleanup

  1. Thanks for your article, Robert. I was truly appalled to hear that Vancouver was going to hide away its homeless people during the Olympics. Canada is a leader, and I expect better. We have a problem. Don’t hide it, fix it. Homeless people are *people*, vulnerable, and just as human as I am. I’ve strolled East Hastings, and volunteered with homeless people (Ottawa) for over a year. I find this action to be mean and disgusting, and clearly precipitated by the Olympics. Of course many homeless don’t use the shelters because they feel safer on the street. Others are just too sick to be able to reason well. I heard Coleman on CBC radio today, and I believe he is sincerely trying to solve the problem, but it’s complex. That being the case, we need something better, not years of talk and a continually growing problem. My main hope is that the Olympics will provide a catalyst for positive action for homelessness. Keep the discussion going please. Lots of people care, and are angry about this. Canada can do better, and hiding our problem is pathetic.

    Tim