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Gregor's success fighting homelessness: check the numbers

Photograph from

Vancouver municipal election 2011: Mike Klassen is an NPA candidate for council.

Mike Klassen is also a long-time political operative with the BC Liberals and the NPA. He’s the guy who helped sandbag the province with Colin Hansen (Mr. HST) and sandbag the city with Sam Sullivan.

I bring this up for one reason. It’s more than a little rich to see a Sam Sullivan political operative like Klassen attack Mayor Gregor Robertson for his success in reducing street homelessness after Sam Sullivan’s comparative failure.

It’s especially rich considering Klassen’s work on behalf of the BC Liberals and former finance minister Colin Hansen, whose welfare, housing and mental health cuts lie at the root of the homelessness explosion in BC.

Klassen calls out Mayor Robertson for focusing on street homelessness in Vancouver, which fell from 786 people in the 2008 homelessness count to 145 in the 2011 count.  That’s a decline of close to 80%.

It’s also the first real progress seen in a decade. 

Compare this year’s decline of 80% to Sullivan’s record of a 40% increase in street homelessness and you’ll understand why Klassen is so keen to distract attention from the record of the administration he helped elect.  In 2006 Sam Sullivan and the NPA promised to reduce homeless 50% by 2010.  Instead homelessness – street homelessness in particular – increased significantly.

Klassen claims the term “street homeless” was almost unheard of prior to Mayor Robertson’s use of it. That’s semantics. Every homeless count in Greater Vancouver since 2002 has distinguished between residents who have shelter (a homeless shelter or a friend’s couch for example) but are homeless and those who are unsheltered and homeless.

More to the point, the 2008 homeless count focused on the rapid expansion of street homelessness in Vancouver and the lower mainland.

Report recommendations called on politicians to focus on shelter gaps and shelter policies to reduce street homelessness.  As the 2008 Homeless Count report noted, getting people off the street – particularly people with addiction and mental health problems – is a critical first step in a “housing first” program.

And that’s what Mayor Robertson and the Vision council have done. By any criteria Robertson and the Vision council have been successful where Sam Sullivan, Mike Klassen and the NPA were unsuccessful.

Maybe that’s why Klassen also claims that any success mayor Robertson has had in reducing homelessness should be credited to the NPA.  “Under the leadership of mayor Sam Sullivan and minister of housing and social services Rich Coleman,” Klassen writes “the city and province of B.C. signed memos of understanding that secured thousands of new units of social and supportive housing.”

Except it’s not true. The NPA’s memorandums of understanding with the BC Liberals were worthless because they were unfunded.  They secured nothing. The MOUs signed by the NPA called for the funding to be in place by the spring of 2008. It never happened.

Mindful of the NPA’s failed funding schemes and empty MOUs Robertson and the Vision council took a different approach. They leveraged the 2010 Olympics to fund shelters and housing projects and the money came through. 

In the spring of 2010 the province freed up over $200 million to build more than 1000 units on 8 of the city sites.  That’s on top of the shelter funding the Vision Council secured.

Politicians make a lot of promises:  Sam Sullivan, with Mike Klassen working the backrooms, promised to reduce homelessness by 50% by 2010.  Gregor Robertson promised to eliminate street homelessness by 2015.

My advice?  Trust the numbers, not the promises or the spin.  And, by the numbers Sullivan failed and homelessness went up.  But Robertson and the Vision Council are making progress.  By the numbers, it’s not perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was three years ago.


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