We recently sat down with all the major Vancouver mayoral candidates and asked how they plan on helping the Downtown Eastside.
The Vancouver civic election is less than two weeks away, and we had a chance to grill all the frontrunners vying to become the next mayor of Vancouver on a range of issues.
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One of the questions we asked all of the candidates was how the Downtown Eastside would look in four years if they were successfully elected as the next Vancouver mayor.
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Ken Sim took aim at current mayor Kennedy Stewart regarding at least one of the significant issues in the Downtown Eastside, SROs.
“He’s focused on quantity of units, and these units are absolutely terrible. They’re inhumane. They’re rodent-infested. Criminals prey on people in these units. And literally, people would rather live on East Hastings in a tent than in these units.”
Sim suggests that we need to stop worrying about what’s “politically expedient and just do the right thing.”
“That will go a long way in stabilizing the situation where we actually have people off the street.”
Like the other candidates, Sim echoed that the City needs to get all levels of government involved in the solutions.
“Vancouver, on our own, we cannot solve this issue. We don’t have the resources, and we don’t really have the jurisdiction either.”
Other key points in Sim’s platform include establishing a free, low barrier, 24-hour recovery centre for those struggling with addiction, and supporting a Vancouver Coastal and Providence Health Authority-led initiative to enhance the safety of the drug supply.
Colleen Hardwick brings extensive experience working from within the City of Vancouver as a councillor. One of the questions we asked Hardwick was how she plans to stop the Downtown Eastside spread into neighbouring areas like Gastown and Chinatown.
“We’ve already filled up all the hotels,” Hardwick quipped.
Hardwick suggested there are places where the City could be housing the homeless, offering the PNE as an option, at least as a triage point instead of sidewalks “adjacent to old buildings.”
“I think we need to get to find other places.”
Hardwick reflected on the four pillars approach that Vancouver supposedly stands by when it comes to addiction but said that the only aspect exercised is harm reduction, not prevention, treatment or enforcement.
“And even hearing that 10,000 people have died of overdose deaths, it’s like there’s a lineup behind them. So, what we’re doing is not working.”
“We need to balance those four pillars. This is why I’m pushing for a commissioner. We need to do a deep dive in analyzing and auditing the industry that has developed and its leaders.”
Fred Harding is vying to be the next leader of Vancouver with the NPA Vancouver party.
“You create shelter and create space.”
One of Harding’s ideas involves renovating spaces that could house the homeless and their tents. Harding said he’d want potential spaces to be cleaned up and made rodent-free, offering all the necessities one needs like security, bathrooms with showers, and washing machines.
“It’s really important that people understand that this is a plan; I’m not pulling things out of my ass and not pulling things out of the air.”
The NPA website states, “to think harm reduction and slum housing alone are helping those in need in our society — is a lie.”
“What we have here is the result of a root cause of those who are being just given harm reduction which is not tied to treatment. And behind them, there are more and more people coming because we don’t have treatment.”
Harding also wants the federal government to take on their share of the responsibility.
We asked Mark Marissen how he plans to make the Downtown Eastside a livable area for the folks living on the street without worrying about their tents and belongings going up in flames.
He mentioned how he had spoken with people living in and around Strathcona Park when the encampment was still present.
“One of the things that people kept on coming back to was how they escaped from their SROs, and they felt healthier and safer in their tents. Until we crack that problem, we’re always going to have tents.”
“The mayor needs to take the leadership on getting the governments to the table in a bigger way, in a coordinated way and unified way.”
Marissen reflected on how more people are dying, but more are still coming to the Downtown Eastside to access drugs.
“It’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of effort. Behind each and every one of these people is a human being.”
A significant component of Kennedy Stewart’s plan to be Vancouver mayor for another four years includes major housing initiatives. Stewart told us that to be elected again, specifically with a majority on the city council, would allow him to see his vision for Vancouver.
We also asked him how he’d prevent the crime from slipping into neighbouring areas like Gastown and Downtown Eastside.
“You don’t want to stigmatize people who are really having a tough time.”
The Forward Together website highlights a list of Stewart’s accomplishments which include:
- Establishing an overdose emergency task force
- Passed motion to decriminalize drugs
- Expanding harm reduction facilities
- Supported a ban on police street checks
- Half-a-billion dollar investment in social and supportive housing
Last month, Stewart announced they were creating a new in-house, mobile frontline wellness service called the Health and Addictions Response Team (HART).
This service will allow special teams to “compassionately assist those in difficulty.”
Daily Hive will provide ongoing coverage leading to the October 15 civic election. Click here to access our civic election hub for the latest.