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Is Vancouver 'deteriorating'? How public safety is being debated in the lead-up to the election

Is Vancouver deteriorating due to mismanagement at city hall, or is the city facing the same issues as most other major cities, compounded by inaction by senior levels of government?

The answer to that question is at the heart of a fierce discussion of public safety, street homelessness, and crime that has been a key focal point for most of Vancouver’s mayoral candidates who’ve blamed the incumbent for what some describe as the city’s “deterioration”.

At a town hall last week, ABC Vancouver’s Ken Sim asked: “How many people have to get hurt before we have real action on this file?” Progress Vancouver’s Mark Marrissen told CTV News “people deserve to feel safe in our city,” and the NPA’s Fred Harding has gone so far as to suggest hiring recently retired police officers to help deal with “public disorder.”

Vancouver’s current mayor, who’s trying to be re-elected with a slate of Forward Together council candidates, insists that all major cities are dealing with similar problems.

“A lot of what's happening has nothing to do with policing, it's got to do with folks falling through the cracks,” said Kennedy Stewart in a one-on-one interview. “Being homeless is not a crime, having a mental illness is not a crime, being poor is not a crime and this is why investing in social housing is so important.”


The direct of the Housing Research Collaborative says with soaring real estate prices in many cities and the growing disparity between rich and poor, more people are ending up on the street, leading to perceptions of urban decay.

“This is something that's occurring across North America, not so much in countries that have a strong social safety net,” said Penny Gurstein. “There’s this attitude of 'Oh, we just don't want to see them on the streets'. Well where are they going to go? There's no housing." 

Gurstein also pointed out that while street sweeps and other ineffective responses to homelessness are better addressed by government-built affordable social housing, such projects would also help deal with the “hidden homeless” who are couch-surfing or living in vehicles and not part of official homeless counts but still need help. 


Compared to other Canadian cities on the national Crime Severity Index, Vancouver’s violent crime rate has improved in the last several years, and critics have raised questions about police statistics.

But there’s little doubt many Vancouverites are feeling unsafe, particularly amid high-profile random attacks by strangers.

While anecdotes and perceptions are hard to track, Vancouver could be doing a much better job of tracking housing-related issues that can be precursors or explanatory factors of street homelessness, for example.

“Are things getting worse? How much? If we had better data, we would be able to at least tell part of that story,” said UBC associate law professor, Alexandra Flynn. “It's not a crisis of unhoused people, it's the effect of not having adequate and affordable housing for people.”

She points to the city of Toronto as an example to follow, with daily statistics of homeless shelter occupancy rates and a dashboard updated monthly with detailed information about longer-term trends, including when the homeless population is growing and how many people are housed each month.

There’s also the issue of jurisdiction: municipalities are responsible for policing, but that’s essentially the end-stage result of insufficient mental health, addictions support, and social services, as well as scant affordable housing and a court system described by some as a revolving-door for prolific offenders – which are all the responsibilities of provincial or federal governments.

“The lack of data can enable each of these governments to point their finger saying the solution lies elsewhere,” said Flynn. Top Stories

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