Getting past the homeless rhetoric

Interim B.C. Liberal leader Rich Coleman used his speech at the recent Union of B.C. Municipalities convention to challenge mayors and councillors on the issue of supportive housing for people with addictions and mental illness.

Face down angry local voters trying to protect their neighbourhoods from needle-strewn disorder and crime, approve new housing sites wherever you can, and get ready to be tossed from office next November when you do it, Coleman told the assembled local politicians in Vancouver.

That’s what former Kamloops mayor Peter Milobar did. He set up simultaneous public hearings for five supportive housing sites on the same evening, so the angry opponents would come at council in smaller groups. Now he’s a B.C. Liberal MLA, and his successor has to face city voters.

Coleman built the government’s real estate arm, B.C. Housing, into a huge machine, taking over the notorious “single room occupancy” hotels in East Vancouver at staggering cost and rehabilitating the corrupt Portland Hotel Society to run them.

He rolled that approach out to other B.C. communities, taking over aging motels and opening “low barrier” shelters. The new NDP government has picked up where he left off, promising to build and operate 2,000 modular housing units with round-the-clock staff support, at a cost of $291 million over two years.

The problem is that this approach is reaching for bigger and bigger Band-Aids for the welfare state’s growing wounds. The first combined Metro Vancouver-Fraser Valley homeless count came out last week. Overall homelessness is up 40 per cent since 2011, and you don’t hear politicians promising to eliminate it any more.

We’re getting past the soothing social worker talk about the “opioid crisis” too. Interviews with weary paramedics are revealing the reality on the street, where they find themselves racing to revive the same people multiple times in the same day.

On the front lines of the police and health care system, they’ve got a clearer idea of who the real victims are. People with genuine wounds and illnesses struggle for help from a system run by politicians who are convinced that all of this self-destructive behaviour is a disease, and an ever-expanding nanny state is the only cure.

The first thing politicians should learn is that the angry people trying to protect their communities are not the problem.

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