Immediate Release: December 8, 2009
Last Thursday, Vancouver city council passed Councillor Woodsworth’s motion on the Assistance to Shelter Act (copied below) and now police Chief Jim Chu has spoken out.
Vancouver’s police chief said Monday that his officers won’t use powers under new provincial legislation to physically force homeless people sleeping outdoors in extreme weather into shelters. Chief Jim Chu said that VPD members will instead use “minimal, non-forceful touching” in rare circumstances to persuade people to accept transportation to shelters. He compared the physical contact to offering a hand to an elderly person crossing a street.
According to Councillor Woodsworth, “the Provincial government needs to start listening to the folks who are closest to homeless people. This includes police, outreach and social workers. They have been unanimous in their opposition to forcibly moving homeless people into shelters – where there are not enough beds anyway.”
Mayor Robertson has recently asked the faith community for help in addressing the homelessness crisis. Asks Councillor Woodsworth: “where is the Province? Clearly, this legislation isn’t the answer.”
1. The Provincial government has passed Bill 18 the Assistance to Shelter Act that allows police officers to use reasonable force to transport a person at risk to an emergency shelter under an extreme weather conditions as declared by the Minister of Housing and Social Development;
2. The City of Vancouver, police, and other levels of government and
local service providers are mandated to ensure the health and safety of all of our residents, including our homeless population;
3. Many of the existing shelters are at or nearing capacity during extreme weather events;
4. Many homeless individuals consciously choose not to access shelters for fear of losing their belongings, and as a result may seek to actively avoid police making them more difficult for outreach and health workers to find thus increasing risks to life and limb during extreme weather events;
5. Homeless individuals, in particular, women, Aboriginals, youth and members of the gay community have expressed concerns about personal safety entering group shelters composed of mixed populations.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED
1. That Council ask the VPD to work with the City to ensure that protocols are developed that will ensure the rights of the homeless are protected should the Assistance to Shelter Act be enforced;
2. That the Council ask the Minister for Housing and Community Development to work with the City to ensure that there is additional overnight shelter capacity; warming centers and other forms of emergency response during extreme weather event and that best efforts be made to encourage homeless people to seek shelter rather than coercion;
3. Reiterate Council’s commitment to working cooperatively with the Provincial Government to address the high rate of homelessness in Greater Vancouver.
4. Call upon the Federal Government to increase funding for social housing to address the problem of homelessness in Vancouver.
5. That Council write to the Minister of Housing, Rich Coleman, expressing concerns about the harmful effects enforcing the Assistance to Shelter Act in Vancouver, and requesting he convene consultations between the Minster, City Council and community representatives, including shelter providers and housing advocates, to address problems with the Assistance to Shelter Act and provide alternatives.