Thursday, October 28, 2010

about the cuts, what i've heard ....

an update - just got a call from cool aid who claim the renovated motel rooms, some of which actually have kitchenettes, will cost $375 for the next three months while bc housing (bc government) is subsidizing them, then who knows after that. the funding's not secure. not sure why my friend said they're $700, he seemed quite confident on that and he's connected to the street so he oughta know ... i'll ask him his source ...

also, the shelter mats are paid at closer to $35 than $40 a head ...

photo: some of the local binners with a map of resources created through a uvic project (that will now require much updating since the shelters are closing and the bottle exchange is moving so that victoria will offer the appearance of a community that has "solved" its economic problems, and rose henry who's running for city council in the by-election, taken last summer.

After the radio program today, I rode by the new Ellice Street shelter building in Rock Bay just west of Douglas St. near Gorge Rd. It’s a decent looking building, as buildings go, kinda institutional and cold and unwelcoming though. Many of us mourned the loss of the old Open Door building, feeling the newly named and constructed Our Place structure was too big and corporate, but at least it has an open outdoor space for people to gather with their dogs, and shopping carts, and a place to lock bikes.

There’s a document taped to the window of the nearly completed Ellice St. building, on Jensen Group Architects letterhead, that specifies a September 9th completion date. It also says the building contains 80 shelter beds, 2 family units, and 23 self contained units. Alongside the building is a different sign, the official Cool Aid sign, (Cool Aid is funded from various sources to manage some different housing around town) and it says there will be 83 shelter beds and 25 transitional housing units.

The Rock Bay shelter is located a distance from the city where the soup kitchens and the Our Place drop-in centre is. It’s walkable, it’d probably take 45 minutes for a healthy, in shape person with no physical disabilities. There are buses nearby, but of course those cost money. One thought that crossed my mind, as I rode through the Rock Bay neighbourhood where, I’ve heard, the sex trade proliferates in the evenings, is that there may be other employment opportunities for shelter tenants with initiative and a bit of luck. Rock Bay is a light industrial area, there are carpenters and mechanics and people who build various things and a recycling centre. I wonder, of those who make the long journey from the city only to find the shelter spaces are full, how many will take a ride with a stranger? Does anyone care?

Prior to my radio show this morning, with help from Rebecca at VIPIRG, we were able to contact the City and learn that they’re working on a press release which will, presumably, alleviate all our fears of three shelters closing prior to the opening of this new shelter, and which doesn’t seem to have enough space for all the people they’re displacing. A phone call to Philippe Lucas, a couple of days ago, was returned with a message saying he didn’t know the numbers, he referred me to a city employee to find out what’s going on. I haven’t had a chance to follow up.

The signs and papers posted at the Ellice St. building indicate that Knappett Projects is the general contractor, and Cityspaces Consulting is the project manager. If September 9th was the agreed upon completion date, who's really responsible for tossing homeless people onto the streets in November?

My best sources for information about what’s happening on the streets continues to be the people who live there, the people who hang out there, and their friends and advocates. Here’s what I’ve heard (and if anybody wants to do some investigative journalism and affirm this, be my guest …. maybe I’ll be able to hire you some day).

I’ve heard that those who provide official “shelter” are paid, presumably by some level of government (us taxpayers) forty dollars a night per head. St. John the Divine has space for about 40 people, allow shopping carts and dogs, and are a bit more lenient about taking people who’ve been consuming various substances than the Salvation Army which has about 20 mats, and you can’t get in if you’re not completely sober. On the other hand, you can only get into one of the few (about ten, as I recall) detox beds. I know people who’ve gotten hammered in the heart of winter so they can get a decent night’s sleep. Vancouver apparently has a place that will accept people overnight even if they’ve been imbibing heavily, and there are police present to keep the peace. Vancouver also has a safe injection site, which keeps things safer all around.

The Salvation Army, I’ve also heard, is paid $4 for each person who shows up for their lunch. I can’t recall how much people pay to eat that lunch, something like $5, and apparently there are two soup kitchens at the Sally Ann, one for those who can pay, and one for those who can’t. The people who can’t pay get a significantly crappier lunch than those who pay. My understanding, too, is that the Sally Ann downtown Victoria functions as a sort of half way house, and they receive money for each former prisoner they house. The Sally Ann, aka the Starvation Army, does alright financially it would seem, especially with all their fundraising efforts on top of this.

Maybe these shelters have enough money in their reserves, and compassion in their hearts, to extend their hospitality for another two or three nights, at least until the new shelter is opened?

The motels that the City recently bought are being renovated to include a bar fridge and a microwave. No hot plates. Again, this is what I’ve heard. They’re being touted as “low income” and, if you’ve got $700 a month to spend on rent, you’ll be able to afford it.

I suppose I could get in trouble for writing this, without absolute evidence and documents to prove it, but I’ve heard these stories from various people over many years and, with this latest horror story in the making with the potential displacement of many people and the lack of public information about it, I’m gonna take a chance and put it out there. I’m all for creating employment, and of course people who organize shelters and prepare food are entitled to a decent salary, but I’m increasingly concerned at the motives of some of those who maintaining this structural, institutionalized poverty. They really don’t want to change the system so that poverty and homelessness can be eliminated. They can’t imagine it. They’d lose their jobs.