Opinion Column

Vancouver mayor's homeless pledge needs scrutiny

Daniel Fontaine

By Daniel Fontaine, Dialogue with a Difference

A homeless man in Vancouver holds up a sign asking for help.

A homeless man in Vancouver holds up a sign asking for help. (FILE PHOTO/24 HOURS)

When it comes to campaign promises, few can rival that of Mayor Gregor Robertson in 2008 when he committed to ending homelessness in Vancouver by 2015. It was a strategic move that helped him secure his majority government.

The issue with these types of grandiose campaign promises is if you stay in government long enough, eventually you are held accountable.

With less than a year remaining to eradicate homelessness, Vision Vancouver clearly has a lot of work left to do. This is perhaps the reason we rarely hear the mayor beating his chest or making homelessness the key focus of his media appearances any longer.

In fact, Robertson is making an effort to lower voter expectations. He argues there actually was no pledge to end total homelessness. Rather, the commitment was to end “street” homelessness — an important distinction from his perspective.

Yet not long ago the mayor and his Vision party were singing a different tune.

In his inaugural address, Robertson said he was told by others that “ending homelessness is an audacious goal. And that’s true. But for someone who’s sleeping under a bridge tonight, 2015 can’t come soon enough.”

In April 2010, the Vision Vancouver website even stated “Mayor Gregor Robertson has set 2015 as the goal for ending homelessness in Vancouver.” It has since been edited to include the word “street.”

Almost every major media outlet in town appeared convinced Robertson had pledged to end homelessness.

“Mayor kick-starts 'clear plan' to end city homelessness” wrote The Province newspaper. Global TV reported, “The mayor made an election promise to end homelessness in Vancouver by 2015.”

Even the Vancouver Observer, an online newspaper run by Linda Solomon — the sister of Joel Solomon, one of the mayor's key backers — appeared convinced. One headline states “City hopes count will help end homelessness by 2015.”

While Robertson still has time to end homelessness in the coming months, this key campaign commitment is on shaky ground.

According to an Oct. 8, 2013 City of Vancouver report, there were 1,576 homeless people in 2008, with the numbers nearly evenly split between sheltered and unsheltered people. The report indicated the 2013 overall homeless population had increased to 1,600 people.

Thanks to key investments from the province, over 1,300 of those individuals now have access to temporary shelter — a significant increase since 2008. No doubt Robertson will want to trumpet this as he heads into the fall election.

Whether you are sleeping on a mat in a temporary shelter or on the street, in the words of Robertson “2015 can’t come soon enough.”

Daniel Fontaine is a local political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @Fontaine_D.  


Do you think Mayor Gregor Robertson will end homelessness in Vancouver by 2015?

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