January 25, 2021

Main Street Merchant Needs Intervention in Mayhem

Daphne Bramham on the weekend wrote in the Province that “the chaos and disorder” in the Downtown Eastside  is so  “normalized that most Vancouverites have abandoned the neighbourhood, given it up to the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, and the people who prey on them.”

It is a true reflection of what has occurred and it is not equitable. There should be a standard of civility afforded to everyone to have safe, clean, accessible open spaces and streets everywhere in the city and to ensure public safety to every resident. By every measure that parameter has failed and the most vulnerable are impacted.

Ms. Bramham and Derrick Penner in the Vancouver Sun have written about the JJ Bean coffee shop at 14th and Main Street. The manager has had an escalating situation with several mentally ill homeless people in a host of situations, including “an altercation involving a homophobic slur, someone using drugs while barricaded in his café’s washroom, trash strewn in the alley and human waste smeared on the café’s compostables recycling bin.”

The coffee shop manager found that there was no direct way to find assistance with the challenges, and both the police and the city pointed at each other as places that should be able to provide assistance.

There is clearly no civic blueprint  to allow businesses to function while municipal attitude is to look away from people in crisis on the street, and finger point that other levels of government should be assisting.

Jeremy Hunka with the Union Gospel Mission feels that the pandemic, homelessness and “the lack of housing and services to deal with addiction” has fanned people in need  throughout the city. The Union Gospel Mission and other shelter providers  have had to shrink their services and beds because of Covid requirements.

Mr. Hunka also  had some very clear points about what is needed to assist the homeless and the mentally ill on the streets:  “more respite spaces, places that are dry, have washrooms and where people can sit down without feeling like they’re unwanted or being chased out of somewhere.”

That is exactly what the City needs to immediately do~provide publicly accessible washrooms, places where people can sit that are dry, safe and secure.

All of these are basic amenities of a civil society.

While the issues of homelessness, addiction and mental illness are complex, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges and  concentrate on civility in public spaces and streets.  It is necessary to ensure all citizens and businesses can safely, comfortably and conveniently access shops, services, and public spaces.

Why can’t municipal resources assist with this now, and if need be bill other levels of government later? Is it time to revisit  Vancouver’s  Four Pillars model of harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement?

You can take a look at the Vancouver Sun’s video interview with the JJ Bean  coffee shop Main Street manager below.




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  1. We lived in that ‘hood when Philip Owen was mayor. He reacted to street prostitution in the west end by making it illegal in the downtown peninsula- so they all moved to Mount Pkeasant and stayed there until long after we had moved away. City hall has a long history of ignoring this area. I am sad but not surprised.

  2. Very simple solution; there are 22 BIAs in Vancouver and they can afford to have at least one or two washrooms.
    Copy the washroom that exist at Main and Terminal all over the City not just in the Downtown area.

  3. My understanding of how social services work in Switzerland is that to get access you need to move back to your home canton (county). This takes the pressure off of the big cities and distributes the solutions on a finer grain where people can get more face to face help in a less chaotic setting. It also keeps them closer to their roots, family and friends which is not always helpful but more likely to be than not.

    I understand the extra complexities of making a system like that work here – and not just that we seemingly feel more entitled to our sense of freedom. In many ways Switzerland is more protective of rights and privacy than we are. But there, small towns and villages are not remote impoverished one horse towns. Though we may not be able to copy their system, something more in that direction of thinking could be helpful. The homeless in the Vancouver area come from all over the province. It isn’t fair or helpful that we in the city need to solve the brunt of the problem – even if senior government help was enough. Which it isn’t.

    1. I should add that one barely sees homelessness in Switzerland. It’s generally much much less in Europe in general but Switzerland stands out even there. So what they are doing is clearly working better than what we are doing. And it isn’t because they never had such a severe drug problem. They were the epicenter of the heroin explosion a few decades back. And they were the first in the world to implement free heroin as a way to reduce crime. So it’s not like their solutions are about forceful law and order.

      We need to learn from them.

  4. I’ve long noted the apparent neglect of areas near and around the Downtown East Side by the civic administration. Without pretending that solutions are easy, it is incumbent on the civic administration to assure that a standard of cleanliness in the public realm is met everywhere. I’d hope we could all support the location of public washrooms across the City. They’d have to be staffed. The “homeless” themselves should have a presence in civic maintenance.

  5. At some point, the rights of hard-working decent caring people like this guy and his neighbours have to rise above the rights of others to abuse, threaten and disrupt them.

    I know of another restaurant that has had regular visits from someone who smashes the windows. Police do nothing. There has to be some accountability from people for their destructive behaviour.

    If jail-time for breaking laws misses the point with people who are beset with multiple afflictions, then we have to face up to the need for involuntary institutionalization in a suitable facility (build it now!) for people who are a danger to safety and the livability of our streets.

    Fight for the Soul of Seattle gets into this– and a lot of unrelated firearms escalation issues– in a hard-hitting but compassionate way.

  6. The issues of homelessness and anti-social, and criminal behaviour is widespread in Mount (Un)Pleasant, where I live and work. And it as gotten a lot worse since the City and BC Housing took over the former Biltmore Hotel on Kingsway and 12th Avenue and turned it into so-called ‘transitional’ housing for those suffering with mental illness, addictions and homelessness. It got even worse after the City cleared out the tent city in Oppenheimer Park. It is frankly out of control now in our neighbourhood, and just last month there was a homicide there, just one short block from my front door. I found out when I heard people outside my front door and discovered police searching our patio for evidence (i.e. the murder weapon). And so it goes, with the City taking no responsibility, BC Housing hiding behind the facility operators, and the operators saying they don’t have the resources or money to manage what happens beyond their front door. Meanwhile the Mount Pleasant BIA has experienced a massive increase in criminal and anti-social behaviour around its member businesses, and has had to hire additional private security at their own cost. Something has to be done. Public washrooms (much needed) are just the tip of the iceberg of issues government has abdicated responsibility for.

  7. Are the public willing to pay higher taxes to cover the costs of disorder? Infrastructure like more public washrooms, mental health facilities, and housing? As well as staff like mental health and social workers for non-violent people causing disorder and security for violent people causing disorder? None of this is surprising seeing as we live in a “I want to have my cake and eat it too” society where no one is willing to pay for anything but everyone wants solutions to every problem for free.

  8. As I mentioned before, society needs to be willing to pay for the services (mental health, social work, and security) and infrastructure (washrooms, housing, and mental hospitals) to deal with this problem. Is society willing to pay the taxes to fund this? Yes or no? Will politicians run on this platform? Will people vote for them? Solving this problem isn’t free.

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