Monday, November 27, 2006

BC Liberals Play Blame Game on Homeless, Mentally Ill

November 27, 2006

'We're finding there's less services'

24 Hours exclusive


The B.C. Liberal government is launching a public-relations campaign to avoid being blamed for rising homelessness and mentally ill people on the street, internal government documents obtained by 24 hours indicate.

And a group representing people with mental and physical disabilities is appalled.

24 hours obtained a Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance presentation made by Deputy Minister Cairine MacDonald this month to legal advocates in Vancouver.

The ministry's presentation highlights as "myths" the results of a series of controversial restrictions on income assistance introduced by the government in recent years that poverty advocates say severely limit benefits and eligibility.

The "reality," according to the ministry, is more help for those in need.
But the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities says government policies have increased homelessness and poverty.

"It really dismays me when I see a presentation like this," said Robin Loxton, the Coalition's Advocacy Access Program Co- Director.

"We're finding there's less services for people and it's harder to get support," Loxton told 24 hours. "People's experience is that it's a harsh system with burdensome requirements and arbitrary rules."

Another prong in the government's public-relations strategy is to roll out a separate advertising campaign on buses and SkyTrain to encourage hiring people with disabilities.

Ministry Communications Director Richard Chambers confirmed Friday that MacDonald made the presentation and said a new "public awareness" campaign aims to find work for 13,000 people with disabilities by 2010, a 10 per cent increase over current employment levels.

Chambers said the effort, including the website, will have a minimal cost due to donated space for posters on transit.

But Loxton, who wasn't at the presentation, said government spin isn't dealing with the crisis.

"I think the marching orders are 'go tell a good news story.' One has to conclude the government's getting some pressure over homelessness and panhandling issues," he said.
Loxton said blaming deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill for the increase in street people is wrong.

"It's not deinstitutionalization that's put people with mental disabilities on the streets, its restrictions on disability benefits," Loxton said.

Chambers disagreed with Coalition criticism, saying: "Homelessness is [a] complex problem with many causes."


Anonymous said...

It's below zero this morning, and a lot of snow. How many homeless people wern't lucky enough to find a spot on some floor to sleep last night? The government isn't doing their job. The Mayor of Victoria has on more than one occassion stated the towns need support for housing. Are they getting it? Not from this government which brags about surpluses till well down the number of years. Hey the big games are coming so lets drop as much cash as it takes for 2010

Budd Campbell said...


Would it be possible for you to post the entire presentation made by MEIA Deputy Minister Cairine MacDonald? I assume this will be some kind of Powerpoint slide show.

Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks for the request Budd - I will look into posting the document but it is a 25 page Powerpoint presentation that I only obtained in hard copy, so the limitations of my blog may not make that possible.

I believe 24 hours will be following up the story Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article and right on the nail, Bill. I am one of the 75 tenants being evicted from the Chelsea Place apartments in New Westminster so a new landlord can do extensive renovations. (And the building does need them.)

We were originally told to be out by Dec. 31 - during the holidays - but those of us who chose to fight through the Residential Tenancy Branch have now got a a better offer - free rent for Dec and Jan. plus up to $400 in moving expenses. The company is doing this to make up for the fact that they originally lied to us about having permits in place to do the renovations.

As an affected tenant who has read the Residential Tenancy Act, I see the problem as a lack of regulation.

The hardest hit people in my building are those who trusted that good will prevail. Those who did not fight are still being forced out on Dec. 31, including one tenant 70-year-old+ senior who is undergoing chemotherapy for Brain Cancer, and another tenant who is currently in hospital for hip surgery.

Keep up the good work. And I'll keep you posted on what our next steps will be.

Budd Campbell said...

I will look forward to seeing more in 24 hours, Bill. In response to the post regarding the Residential Tenancy Act, ... it would be a lot easier if the rental market consisted of only good tenants and bad landlords, or only good landlords and bad tenants. But when there are both good and bad actors on both sides of the market things are far more complicated.

At whatever point the legislation is striking the balance at any given time, any move to change the Act so as to provide additional protection for good landlords from bad tenants will open the door for bad landlords to abuse good tenants. And any move to change the act so that good tenants cannot be so easily hurt by bad landlords will make it easier for bad tenants to cause good landlords serious damage.

Underlying all this is the unduly high market price of residential real estate, especially in the GVRD, but in Victoria and Kelowna as well. It's wrong and stupid to say the answer is more social housing. It's lower prices through zoning that accommodates population growth at stable prices.