Achieving a civil society hinges on humane treatment for its lost souls

From the Vancouver Sun
Public disorder is not new in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, nor are attempts to eliminate it. Successive mayors, from Philip Owen to Larry Campbell, and now Sam Sullivan, have all called attention to the problem, and have offered various solutions.
This is something we need to keep in mind in assessing the value of Sullivan’s latest initiative, Project Civil City. According to the project’s official document, Sullivan wants to achieve a 50-per-cent reduction in homelessness, the open drug market, aggressive pandhandling and public nuisance and annoyance complaints by 2010.

These are ambitious and worthy goals, but goals alone are not enough. The real issue centres on how these goals will be achieved, and to that end, Project Civil Society includes a 10-point plan.
The plan includes a $1-million crackdown on nuisance and public annoyance, possibly by hiring new bylaw officers and prosecutors, and the establishment of a project civil city implementation office, commissioner, leadership council and implementation team.
The emphasis on implementation is important since many grandiose plans fail simply because insufficient attention is paid to translating plans into action. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of implementation concerns the plan to boost police presence on the street, which should at least help to reduce some of the aggressive panhandling that has become such a blight on our city.
The project also calls for an immediate benchmark analysis of aggressive panhandling, open drug sales and use, and homelessness. Although this might seem redundant, since we have plenty of data on the incidence of homelessness, for example, it will allow the leadership council and the implementation team to assess progress and determine what’s working and what isn’t.
Bar owners will also be advised of a 60-day countdown toward significant improvement in public order or council might reduce bar hours to match other Greater Vancouver Regional District jurisdictions. Representatives of the bar industry have balked at this, claiming that it will just transfer the problems that occur at 3 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Yet bar owners have also stated that many of the late-night problems outside Vancouver bars occur because patrons from other areas of the GVRD come to the downtown core for last call. If this is the problem — as opposed to bars serving patrons past the point of intoxication — then harmonizing bar hours would likely eliminate it.
All of these plans, therefore, appear positive. But conspicuous by its absence in the 10-point plan is any explicit mention of homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness, the three problems that contribute to public disorder more than anything else.
Of course, city council can’t tackle these problems by itself, since it will need the cooperation and support of the provincial and federal governments. And though not included explicitly in the 10-point plan, project civil city does discuss these problems at length.
The project document notes the lack of affordable housing, and talks about the need to build on current outreach strategies to link people to appropriate services and supports. It also discusses an initiative to fast-track the development of social housing.
As far as mental illness and addiction are concerned, the document details innovative programs such as the supervised injection facility and the North American opiate medication initiative, which have helped to stabilize addicts. It also mentions various governments’ attempts to build a comprehensive system for addiction and mental illness.
Fortunately, the project civil society leadership council will include key provincial and federal ministers, which means there will be an opportunity for cooperation and coordination among the three levels of government.
Such coordination and cooperation is imperative if we’re ever to get a handle on public disorder. The 10-point plan is a good start, but if it’s a permanent reduction in public disorder we’re after, then our efforts to address homelessness, addiction and mental illness must be front and centre.
Sat 09 Dec 2006
Section: Editorial
Source: Vancouver Sun