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Public policy lessons on homelessness for Vancouver’s next mayor November 2, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, Homeless Action Week, homelessness, public policy issues, random thoughts, social change, Vancouver.
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Vlastula on Flickr

Credit: Vlastula on Flickr

Both of the candidates with actually the best shot at actually becoming the next Mayor of Vancouver (Gregor Robertson and Peter Ladner) have participated in debates on (and broadly proclaimed that they’ll work to end) homelessness in Vancouver (you can read a good recap by Tris here). Well, gentlemen, I seriously do hope that whoever wins, will seriously seek some sound advice on public policy, particularly on the issue of homelessness.

I am not an expert in homelessness policy by any means. I am, however, a specialist in environmental studies and public policy, and particularly I’ve researched issues that are clearly the domain of various levels of government. In particular, water governance in Mexico faces many challenges precisely because of this problem – overlapping jurisdictional responsibilities. Homelessness has the same basic structural problem. It should be a shared responsibility, but no actual level of government takes real responsibility and is truly accountable for dealing with homelessness.

In Mexico, wastewater governance and water supply provision, for example, is fully a responsibility of the municipality. That responsibility is enshrined in the Mexican Constitution (Article 115). Unfortunately, municipalities don’t really have a standing in the Canadian political system. Canadian federalism recognizes the Federation and the provinces (and Territories). However, municipalities/cities are not recognized (see Canada’s Cities report) and therefore, the intergovernmental relationships amongst municipalities, the provincial governments and the Federal have become really complicated [EDIT – Found even better sources on the debate on whether municipalities should be granted constitutional status in the site of the Library of the Parliament of Canada and in the Canadian Encylopedia].

This is unfortunate, and it’s a big problem if you think about it, because – who bears the brunt of homeless as a societal issue that needs to be addressed? The municipality. However, how can a municipality address an issue that requires cooperation between provinces, the Federation and the municipality if there is no actual recognized Constitutional status of the city in Canada? (see the sources I’ve included above on the state of the debate in regards to the constitutional status of the municipality/city)

According to Vision Vancouver’s blog, Gregor suggests to “build relationships with all levels of government” as one of the key actions they’ll undertake if elected.

According to Peter Ladner’s blog, Peter suggests that he will tackle homelessness “through a partnership of federal, provincial, regional, municipal governments and non-profit agencies”.

Well, dear candidates in the November 15th municipal election, you will need to not only build relationships and partnerships, but actually establish sound, solid intergovernmental agreements that lead to the implementation at a local (municipal) level of the Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Although, that being said, I think we need a sound National Homelessness Action Strategy.

Homelessness is definitely a regional/municipal public policy issue, but municipalities can’t solve the problem by themselves, without the support of the Federal government. For all candidates, I suggest you coordinate your strategy with the Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy (launched in December 2006).

Under the HPS, the federal government will offer the provinces and territories the opportunity to enter into bilateral partnerships, improve collaboration and develop linkages between the federal homelessness programs and provincial/territorial social services to help communities make strategic investments that will best serve their homeless populations.[HPS About Us]

I would also recommend investing in solid, evidence-based research on homelessness using a global, multi-country, multi-region comparative strategy. Surely, other countries have reduced homelessness. How did they do it? What did they do? What was needed?

I am sure someone must have done good research on the topic. I haven’t, but if I was a specialist in urban issues (specifically homelessness) rather than an environmental specialist, I probably would launch a research programme with applied outcomes (e.g. partner with the local communities to actually effect change).

I was able to find a good article on homelessness and health (co-authored by, amongst others, Dr. Jim Frankish, whose research I do respect a lot).

Homelessness and Health in Canada: Research Lessons and Priorities
C James Frankish; Stephen W Hwang; Darryl Quantz, Canadian Journal of Public Health; Mar/Apr 2005; 96.

[Link here]

Additional resources – Not a research paper, but Monte Paulsen’s post on The Tyee “Seven Solutions to Homelessness” is a great read.

One last word – whoever wins, please don’t just give us empty promises.

DO THINGS THAT WILL HAVE POSITIVE, LONG-LASTING POSITIVE EFFECTS!

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Comments»

1. Tris Hussey - November 2, 2008

The issue is even further complicated when you consider what other jurisdictions do about the problem. Let’s say Surrey decides on some kind of get tough policy, driving people out of there into say New West, or into Vancouver proper?

What if in an effort to “clean up the Downtown Eastside” homeless people become more common in areas like Kits or Kerrisdale? Imagine the stink raised when it isn’t a Downtown problem but a larger city-wide problem.

It is not a simple problem. And whatever solutions come out, they are going to need a lot of coordination, and money.

2. Gölök - November 2, 2008

I agree. It is rather nice to use the Downtown East Side as one place, but Granville Street is not the DTES, it’s the DTWE. Or DTWS.
Also this clean up, cleaning up in some regimes included murder and mayhem by the state, can we trust these people not to suddenly decide a cleansing means a secret police force murder or moving the problem around.
Also promices, one dick or two a few claiming in 3 years they will fix this massive issue.
A bit presumptious, maybe they think they have +4 wands and will be +6 Mayors.
Hey guys, magic is not for real.

To Liberty!

Gölök Z Buday (I)
“The first destroyer of the liberties of a people is he who first gave them bounties and largess.” — Plutarch (c.45-125 A.D.) Priest of the Delphic Oracle

3. Andrew Kumar - November 2, 2008

I think some commercial companies need to be involved in some aspects also. A lot of businesses will benefit from the goodwill.

4. Gregor Robertson is the new Mayor of Vancouver « Random Thoughts of a Student of the Environment - November 17, 2008

[…] wrote a post a few weeks back on homelessness public policy to which the lack of responses completely frustrated me, because I don’t think a lot of […]


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