What’s being done about downtown

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Here is a brief reply I made to a social media post that addressed homelessness, people feeling unsafe downtown, thefts faced by retailers and their staff, and open drug use and aggression on streets, and wondering what is being done about all of it.

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Yes these problems are real. They are less common than some people claim and others genuinely think, but they are real.

The City is taking action despite having very constrained legal authority and financial resources. We can do some housing-related things, and we are. But we have a division of powers among governments in Canada. And as you noted this isn’t just a homelessness problem. It’s a mental health, addictions, and crime problem (homeless people are the biggest victims of crime).

Under the division of powers that we have, the City enforces bylaws and funds the police (the largest two VicPD budget increases in 20 years and maybe ever were in 2022 and 2023). But building and staffing complex-care housing and supportive housing, dealing with health issues (mental health and addictions), funding courts, remand and prisons, are federal and provincial. Changes have started in those areas; see the province’s Belonging in BC plan.

But as others have noted, it will take years to clean up the mess created by the spending cuts in these areas that started in the 1980s and 1990s. And those cuts caused more damage to a lot of people, so it’s going to be even more expensive and time-consuming.

All the more reason to dramatically increase spending and accelerate the work that has been started.