Tuesday the numbers from the annual homeless count were released. The headlines say it all: “Record number of homeless on Vancouver streets“.
For those of us who genuinely believe there is absolutely no excuse for homelessness in any society, let alone a society as rich as ours, the numbers were not just bad, they were terrible. The count is now the highest ever.
What makes this story especially infuriating for me is the fact that Mayor Gregor Robertson, when first running for mayor in 2008, campaigned on a promise to not just reduce homelessness in Vancouver, but eliminate it.
I suspected at the time that his promise was meaningless. But I kept my fingers crossed that I was wrong.
I still remember bumping into him at a fundraiser during the election campaign. It quickly became apparent that my worst fears were accurate. Gregor Robertson had nothing but meaningless and utterly vague responses to the few simple questions I put to him: “Over what period of time would you eliminate homelessness?” Answer: Banal generalities. “What steps will you take at the municipal level to eliminate homelessness?” Answer: Not one specific idea. “How will you measure your success in achieving this goal?” Answer: Nothing but a vintage Gregor Robertson smiley face.
I left that encounter demoralized and despondent. Bad enough that Gregor Robertson was attempting to get elected mayor of Canada’s 3rd largest city on the backs of the homeless. Even worse, by all appearances he was acting dishonestly.
The mayor went on to win the election and matters have only gotten worse.
In 2011 Mayor Gregor Robertson was reelected. Again, he ran on a platform that included a commitment to end homelessness. Mid-term his team of experts — not homelessness experts, but reframing experts — came up with a brilliant idea! The goal would no longer be to end homelessness but to end street homelessness. This would mean that if a person found a cot or foamie to sleep on overnight in a homeless shelter — where people are kicked out at dawn every morning, only to aimlessly wander the streets all day — they would no longer be considered homeless.
In 2014 the man who would singlehandedly do what no other mayor has ever done before — end homelessness — was once again re-elected.
If the mayor had done nothing but implement the following policy, I suggest that homelessness as we know it today would be largely, if not totally, eliminated: Require developers building developments over a certain size to make 1/4 of all units affordable units, where “affordable” is defined as 1/3 of a person’s income.