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Vision promotes 'Housing First,' NPA proposes pre-fab homes

Candidates Gregor Robertson and Peter Ladner tried to wrestle the Vancouver mayoral campaign back to a discussion about homelessness on Monday, but the latest wrinkle in the Olympic Village bailout scandal – along with a few particularly vocal Downtown Eastside hecklers – continued to overwhelm them both.

Vision Vancouver candidate Robertson promised “90 days of taking action” on homelessness, and praised the Housing First approach being applied in Toronto and Calgary.

“I’d like to see Housing First be more prevalent in Vancouver,” Robertson said. “There has to be a balance between finding Housing First solutions for persons [who] simply need a roof over their head. We also have to be sure that those who need treatment get it.”

Non-Partisan Association candidate Peter Ladner reversed his earlier position against homeless shelters, and – with only five days to go to the Nov. 15 election – introduced a major new idea: The erection of prefabricated housing modules to house Vancouver’s homeless until permanent housing can be built.

“The NPA has been as active on this file as anything else we’ve been doing, and we are very much in tune with the Homeless Action Plan that the city developed in 2005,” Ladner said.

Robertson calls for ’90 days of action’

“On the issue of homelessness, Peter Ladner and I could not be more different,” Robertson told a late-morning press conference. “It is my top priority. Peter Ladner has had a different priority every week.”

Vision Vancouver has committed to sheltering the city’s homeless within one year, and to ending street homelessness by 2015.

“On my first day as mayor, I will strike an emergency task force on homelessness as part of 90 days of taking action,” Robertson said. “We need to kick-start the process… The Mayor’s Emergency Task Force is not a study. It will provide clear, immediate actions that as mayor and council we can take to deal with homelessness.”

Robertson offered a few examples of the sort of initiative his task force would undertake immediately, including working to find a new location for United We Can and championing the city’s soon-to-be-launched Street to Home Foundation.

Robertson specifically attacked Ladner’s longstanding argument against the creation of more homeless shelters.

“Peter Ladner has said that he’s opposed to shelters. In effect, he’s telling people who are living on the street, and who care about homelessness, to keep waiting, to stay there living on the streets,” Robertson said. “I believe that shelters and temporary housing are part of the solution when combined with building permanent long-term housing.”

Ladner reverses position on shelters

“We don’t need another task force,” said Ladner, at a Hastings Street news conference a half hour later. “We need action.”

Ladner repeated his claim that the city is creating 3,800 units of social housing, then turned the microphone over to NPA council candidate Michael Geller.

“Vancouver does have a housing action plan,” Geller said. “It focuses on income, housing and support services. But like any good plan, it has to be adapted over time. Indeed, many of the people working in this community now think the solutions need to change.”

Geller introduced “The NPA’s comprehensive six-point strategy to address homelessness in the Downtown Eastside,” which includes:

-- Taking credit for the 3,813 units of non-market and supportive housing being constructed, converted or planned by B.C. Housing;

-- Continuing homeless outreach services;

-- Enforcing standards of maintenance bylaws to retain low-income housing;

-- Lobbying the provincial government to increase welfare’s $375 shelter allowance;

-- Creating additional shelter beds in Vancouver; and

-- Erecting villages of factory-built housing for the homeless, on vacant land throughout Vancouver.

Geller acknowledged that the NPA was reversing course on its earlier position against shelters.

“Building more shelters to solve homelessness is like building wider roads to solve traffic congestion. It just doesn’t work,” Geller said. “But the reality is that we have a real problem right now, and this problem has to be addressed. So we do agree that there is a need for some shelter beds to be built, and we will work to do that.”

Hecklers cut short NPA news conference

Geller, a longtime advocate of factory-built housing, was particularly interested in discussing the last item on the NPA’s new list.

“The NPA will undertake an innovative program to create a stock of factory produced relocatable housing modules that can be set up, on an interim basis, on vacant lands in the Downtown Eastside and elsewhere," Geller said. "The owners of these sites will be offered a property tax holiday, and units will be kept in place for no more than three years. The housing can be constructed and be in place within eight months, and serve a need while other permanent housing is created."

But Geller’s ideas were drown out by a pair of particularly vocal Hastings Street hecklers.

“One hundred million dollars for waterfront condos, but moveable boxes for the homeless," one man yelled, his voice dripping with irony. "No one saw that coming."

The hecklers grew bolder, until finally one warned Ladner to “watch his back." Ladner and Geller aborted the news conference a few moments later.

Monte Paulsen reports on housing and politics for The Tyee.

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