Skip to content

Burnaby's mayor needs to act on homelessness

Dear Editor: Re: Businesses work on homelessness strategy, Burnaby NOW, Aug. 17. Kudos to Burnaby Board of Trade CEO Paul Holden for his emerging Made in Burnaby homelessness strategy.

Dear Editor:

Re: Businesses work on homelessness strategy, Burnaby NOW, Aug. 17.

Kudos to Burnaby Board of Trade CEO Paul Holden for his emerging Made in Burnaby homelessness strategy.

Joe Roberts (Canada's "Skid-Row CEO") clearly made an impression at the board of trade breakfast where he recounted his journey from the street to the executive suite of his own firm. What he said then goes now: helping the homeless is not just charity; it is good economics too. Your reporter, Ms. Fuller-Evans, quotes several round-table participants to make this case.

Ms. Smith (Grand Villa Casino) notes that Burnaby needs a purpose-built emergency shelter to offer transitional housing and related services. I add that:

A purpose-built shelter, furnished with space suitable for social-agency work, can also immediately connect homeless people and the agencies funded to help them: (a) access addiction/mental health care; (b) find permanent places to live; or even (c) tap benefits for which they qualify (ending their homelessness outright).

A purpose-built shelter, furnished with a room for a medical clinic, can connect homeless persons with one of the specialized care teams Fraser Health is now placing in selected hospital ERs to serve them. Offering homeless people more immediate access to care prevents more-costly-to-taxpayer hospitalization later.

A purpose-built shelter, furnished with a volunteer outreach office, can connect local homeless people with volunteers from Burnaby's communities of faith who (previously mobilized by RCMP Staff Sgt. John Buis in support of the Burnaby cold-weather shelter) now make homeless people a year-round "mission." Their time, contributions of clothing and food, and willingness to offer sustained human contact, combined with the funded professional social services and properly supported beds at a purpose-built shelter, can become the comprehensive approach with the best chance of truly helping the homeless get off our streets.

Mr. Findley (from Lougheed Mall management) builds on the economic rationale for aiding homeless people. Businesses ultimately spend less on security when they stop calling the RCMP to ineffectively manage homeless persons and start calling social workers back-stopped by shelter beds to more effectively help homeless persons.

I add that, as officers stop playing catch-and-release with homeless people, they can direct more taxpayer-funded time to catching real criminals. (And perhaps officers can also launch joint patrols with shelter staff to secure the shelter's host neighbourhood and put homeless persons into immediate contact with the social workers who can truly help them.)

Mr. Bassett (from Electronic Arts) has perhaps the most insightful observation. Business also has the long-term solution for homelessness in hand: lowering the barriers against meaningful employment of homeless persons. I expect your readers would agree. And I add that a purpose-built shelter, with an on-site volunteer office, might add staff expressly to work with the Burnaby Board of Trade in creating member-based "street-to-work" programs so that self-help via work becomes reality - not an exception - for local homeless people.

I make one final point. 2011 is a civic election year. If Burnaby's current Mayor Derek Corrigan cannot understand that: (1) lack of formal jurisdiction over homelessness is no excuse for civic inaction; (2) Victoria is not to blame for his inaction on homelessness; and (3) a large and growing number of citizens, now including board of trade members, are mobilizing to actually help local homeless people and need city hall to help fund (and zone a site for) a transition shelter: then we should "bypass" him.

The most practical way to bypass Mayor Corrigan is to elect FIVE Green councillors in the civic election just twelve weeks from now. Five Green councillors working as a group can vote through council the zoning changes and the civic funding required to put city hall behind the Burnaby Board of Trade in helping the homeless.

Mr. Corrigan's inexplicable and inexcusable refusal to invest civic resources in this local cause will then no longer matter. He can stay in office as a continuing embarrassment to the provincial NDP and progressive local New Democrats (who believe, as we Greens do, that helping the homeless is indeed sound civic policy).

G. Bruce Friesen, Burnaby