BACKGROUNDER: Mayor’s Survey on Public Disorder

City of Vancouver, Office of the Mayor
November 2006


On September 22, 2006, Mayor Sam Sullivan launched a survey about public disorder in the City of Vancouver, posted on his website In just a matter of days, hundreds of Vancouver citizens had logged on to provide their views on issues such as aggressive panhandling, littering, open drug use and noise infractions. The survey closed November 1, 2006, with a total of 2,469 responses received. Based on the results, it is clear that many Vancouverites feel that our City has a serious public disorder problem and that action must be taken.

Of the almost 2,500 people who completed the survey, 1,909 people took the time to provide specific comments or observations based on their own personal experience or their perceptions of the conditions in their neighbourhoods. Below is a summary of survey responses as well as some of the specific themes and ideas that emerged from the public feedback.

General Findings and Observations

The web-based survey was designed to elicit public response and feedback and was not intended to replace more traditional public opinion surveys. Although the respondents were self-selected, the survey (both the open-ended and closed-ended) questions helped to provide important insights. Based on the findings of the survey, it was clear that:

  • Vancouverites care about their city! There were a total of 2,469 responses received from across all parts of the city – in English, Chinese and Punjabi – with more than 20 neighbourhoods represented;
  • Of those who responded to the survey, more than 75% took the time to provide comments about specific conditions in their neighbourhoods. The responses to the open-ended questions tended to range from general observations and/or concerns through to personal stories or experiences. Some respondents also tried to identify potential remedies to address the problems they had identified.


  • 84% of survey respondents feel that public disorder problems in Vancouver have become worse in the last 5 years;
  • 81% are very concerned that Vancouver is losing its international reputation; and,
  • 67% feel that City Council must take immediate action to address the problem.

Complete Results

1. How would you describe City Council’s efforts thus far to address public disorder issues?

2.07% __Good: Council has done all that it can to reduce public disorder

23.21%__Fair: Council has made some progress, but could do more

66.87%__Poor: Council has not done enough to tackle this problem and must act now

7.86%__Don’t know

2. How do you think Vancouver’s reputation has been impacted by public disorder?

3.81%__No impact – I don’t believe our city’s reputation has suffered

13.41%__Minor impact – I am somewhat concerned but feel that most visitors don’t notice public disorder in Vancouver

80.88%__Significant impact – I am very concerned that Vancouver is losing its reputation as a safe destination

1.9%__Don’t know

3. In reference to public disorder, which of the following statements is closest to your personal experience?

83.8%_ Over the last 5 years, public disorder has increased (it has become worse)

13.65%_ Over the last 5 years, public disorder has remained constant (no change)

2.55%_ Over the last 5 years, public disorder has declined (it has improved)

4. Please indicate which of the following public disorder issues are of most concern to you (check all that apply):


83.35%_Aggressive panhandling

70.68%_Sleeping/camping in public parks or on beaches

41.07%_Noise infractions (e.g. loud motorcycles, stereos, car alarms)

79.63%_Open drug use in public places

48.60%_Graffiti and tagging

12.47%_Cyclists not wearing helmets

62.29%_Public urination/defecation

66.83%_Excessive garbage on streets and in alleyways



5. Do you have any additional comments or suggestions for reducing public disorder?

[1,909 responses received]

6. Please tell us which neighbourhood you live in:

No answer 0.24%

Downtown 12.35%

Downtown West End 14.86%

Downtown Eastside 4.13%

Dunbar-Southlands 1.70%

Arbutus Ridge 0.85%

Fairview 4.90%

Kerrisdale 0.89%

Grandview-Woodland 5.35%

Hastings-Sunrise 2.27%

Kensington-Cedar Cottage 1.66%

Kerrisdale 1.58%

Killarney 1.46%

Kitsilano 9.44%

Marpole 1.62%

Mount Pleasant 5.87%

Oakridge 1.42%

Renfrew-Collingwood 2.51%

Riley Park 0.93%

Shaughnessy 1.46%

South Cambie 0.65%

Strathcona 1.34%

Sunset 0.81%

Victoria-Fraserview 2.19%

West Point Grey 1.78%

Outside Vancouver 17.74%


The following represents common themes expressed in the 1,909 comments submitted by survey respondents:

  1. People need to feel safe in all parts of their City;
  2. People want to feel a sense of pride in their City;
  3. People want to be compassionate and solutions-oriented;
  4. There are circumstances where an individual’s conduct violates what should be the community norm;
  5. People recognize that the issues are complex and multi-dimensional and that many aspects of street disorder are symptoms of the underlying root causes of poverty, drug addiction and mental illness.


  • Based on responses to the open-ended questions in the survey, more than 22% of all respondents believe that there is a need for both community-based solutions as well as broader social ‘safety net’ solutions to address issues related to housing and homelessness.
  • Approximately 20% of all survey respondents see a need for stronger enforcement of laws and by-laws in the City of Vancouver.
  • Only a very small percentage (1.5%) said they feel that the current harm reduction strategies to address drug addiction (including the safe injection site) were working to address the issue of public disorder and crime. Rather, the survey findings suggest that a larger number of respondents feel there is a need for “tough love” designed to help those challenged with mental illness and drug addiction to get the services that they need.
  • The general observations and conclusions related to the current harm reduction model also applied to panhandling and binning. Within this context, some survey respondents believe that the need for panhandling and binning reflects a failure of society and represents part of the ongoing “infrastructure of poverty”. These individuals tended to stress the importance of looking for longer-term solutions rather than simply moving people through the system, or displacing the problems from one neighbourhood to another.
  • Other survey respondents expressed concern that panhandling and binning made them feel unsafe, with a number of respondents describing specific instances where they had a negative experience.
  • A number of survey respondents indicated that their concern rests more with the negative image that panhandling and binning can create. Those who held this perspective reported that they had recently traveled to other international destinations where they had expected to see similar problems or worse. In some cases, respondents reported that they were “shocked” to find that other cities did not have the same incidences of panhandling and binning.

Sample comments

The following comments are a sample of the responses received:

“The greater public good must be the prime consideration at all times in dealing with individual acts of public disorder. There should be absolutely zero tolerance for such individual acts for public disorder – not matter what the cause – if a civil society is to exist and prosper in the city of Vancouver.”

“I live in Vancouver, but I have a lot of guests from overseas come to stay with me. It is now at the stage that I am almost embarrassed to show them around the city, as they always (without exception) comment about the number of homeless people, drug addicts and panhandlers that they see while walking around the main downtown and tourist areas, and they always compare the number to other cities throughout the world (many of those cities much larger, and with much larger populations and yet with less visible social problems). I am now at the stage where I am actually having to justify to them (and myself) the reasons for living in Vancouver (ie, geographically beautiful, lovely climate etc) when all they can see are the social problems.”

“I feel downtown Vancouver is an unsafe place to walk at night especially for tourists. We just came back from a trip to Italy and significantly noticed how safe it was to walk down any alley at night even in the large cities like Rome. All the streets and alleys were safe with no panhandlers. As a tourist or citizen of Vancouver this would be very uncomfortable to do in the evening. I believe we need to start with proper drug rehab centers to get these people off the streets.”

“Please find ways to support communities within the city to deal with the issues. We know our own neighbourhoods best, and I think that communities need to be involved in the solutions, since we live with the problems.”

“From a person who has spent many Sundays volunteering her time feeding the homeless I have come to realize that a good majority of the people on the streets are not drunks or drug users but instead people who are affected by mental illness. Because our government has closed down the majority of mental health facilities these people end up on the streets. Most people may see someone talking to themselves and think “look at the drug addict”, but the truth is they suffer from schizophrenia. The government has closed down [many mental health institutions including] Riverview Hospital. Why don’t we focus our efforts on helping the people with mental illness and then evaluate the homeless!”

“Thank you for asking the people’s opinions! Whether or not something comes of it all, you made me feel like my opinion was of value to you. Last weekend my boyfriend and I (we live on Beach @ Hornby) walked up Hornby into downtown. We were discussing how ridiculous it was that I had to walk 5 blocks before I found a garbage can to throw away my garbage. On major streets downtown there should be a garbage can on every street corner (or at least 2 kitty-corner at the intersection)!”

“Loud noises – specifically the motorcyles. There is no need for that kind of noise – when one of those bikes passes by our condo, you can’t even hear yourself think! The panhandling and homeless problem must be addressed as well. There must be something we can do as a community.”

“Posting flyers on light poles, power poles, trees, mail boxes, etc.; on-street drug dealing; bongo drumming, playing amplified musical instruments in parks and on the street; consuming alcohol in parks and on street. Suggestions: More police on foot patrols and immediate attention by police to reports of public disorder. Imposing fines for by-law infractions.”

“I am particularly concerned with the rampant petty crime in Vancouver. If petty crime goes unaddressed it will give criminals the indication that Vancouver is an area where they can flourish. Vancouver should adopt the New York ‘sweat the small stuff’ approach of Mayor Giuliani. Our revolving door judicial system isn’t helping but as a city all we can do is continue to try to bring criminals to justice.”