Welcome to B.C., freeloaders

Tom Fletcher shares his thoughts on the homeless situation in British Columbia.

As the B.C. government spends millions on an international brand campaign with the recycled slogan “Super, Natural B.C.,” another brand identity has spread across Canada.

This one’s unintentional. It hit a new peak last week with the arrival of two young men from Saskatchewan, who were given one-way tickets to Vancouver and Victoria by typically burdened social services ministry staff in North Battleford.

Sorting through the blizzard of soothing sound bites and sympathetic TV clips, a clearer picture emerges.

In his initial interview with the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Charles Neil-Curly, at 23 the elder of the two, said he decided to head west when shelter staff told him his time had run out and he asked for bus tickets to B.C.

“When they asked if I had a place to go, I just said, ‘yeah’,” Neil-Curly said. “I was going to the next homeless shelter anyway.”

Transients and panhandlers aren’t the only ones who say whatever they figure will get them through another day. Politicians do it too.

Admitting she knew little about the arrivals, Premier Christy Clark suggested that both were mentally ill and deserve everysupport the province can give them.

B.C. housing czar Rich Coleman has also demonstrated factual flexibility as he presides over the creation of his latest single-room-occupancy drug ghetto in a residential neighbourhood in Victoria.

After quietly proposing a closed-down nursing home called Mount Edwards Court as a temporary solution to the filthy “tent city” that sprang up on provincial property last fall, Coleman abruptly announced from his Langley office Feb. 5 that the building had been bought and partly renovated for $4 million. It would house 38 people for up to a year.

I asked him if the purchase meant the conversion of Mount Edwards into permanent “low-barrier” housing for 100 people was a “done deal,” as area residents believe. “They’re wrong,” Coleman indignantly replied, and there would be community consultation over the next year.

In subsequent comments to reporters, he said the province doesn’t really need city zoning, but will apply for it anyway. (That won’t be a problem with Victoria’s far-left city council, which is keen to add a supervised injection site too.)

On Feb. 24, Coleman was asked if he is concerned that the 88 housing units at two locations would fill up and other transients would arrive to take their place. By that time the tent squat appeared to have about 100 people in residence, with the usual overdoses, violence and prostitution.

Coleman assured us it hasn’t happened in Abbotsford or Maple Ridge, where tent camps have finally been cleaned up after shelters and housing were provided.

The next day, he was asked if transitional accommodations would be sufficient to end the camp.

“They’re not actually all that transitional,” Coleman replied. “We’ll take Mount Edwards through a zoning process. We’ve got about 100 beds there. We’ve bought the building so it’s hardly transitional. We’ve permanently done that.”

Fast forward to March 11. The 38 Mount Edwards spaces are full, another 40 rooms and camping spaces at a former youth custody centre are almost full, and the province applies for a court order to clear the Victoria camp.

A representative of the advocacy group Together Against Poverty Society goes on local radio to pledge legal support for the campers. How many are there now? At least 100, he says.

Meanwhile in Maple Ridge, where the “homeless” problem is all fixed, Coleman has just extended temporary shelter funding and paid $5.5 million for a 61-room motel to fix it some more.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press.

 

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