Vancouver to spend $2.2 million on street cleaning jobs for the homeless in 2022

Feb 4 2022, 3:35 am

The ongoing annual program by the City of Vancouver of providing funding to non-profit organizations to employ individuals experiencing homelessness and other low-income people with street cleaning jobs will be renewed for another year.

This provides the individuals with meaningful, low-barrier employment, while also giving Vancouver’s streets and public spaces with much-needed cleaning.

Vancouver City Council is expected to approve next week spending $2.185 million on the street cleaning grant program — up from $2.105 million in 2021, $1.84 million in 2020, and $1.615 million in 2019.

This includes $469,100 to Save Our Environment’s United We Can, $663,000 to Coast Mental Health Foundation’s Employment Services Program, $876,000 to Mission Possible Compassionate Ministries Society, $73,100 to Family Services of Greater Vancouver’s Street Youth Job Action, $48,800 to the Kettle Friendship Society’s SEED Employment Program, and $55,000 to Makeway Charitable Society’s Binners’ Project.

Of the entire total grant funding allocated, $716,000 goes toward micro-cleaning efforts, with $814,000 specifically to the highly problematic areas of the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown, Gastown, and Strathcona. The remainder of the micro-cleaning grant funding largely goes to other areas of the downtown Vancouver peninsula and around Commercial-Broadway Station.

Another $637,000 to two non-profit organizations supplements the self-funded micro-cleaning efforts of 22 business improvement associations (BIA), with crews transported to each BIA jurisdiction on a pre-booked schedule.

The city has allocated $210,000 towards the micro-cleaning pilot project of public plazas, including the collection of garbage and needles, light sweeping, wiping tables and chairs, and fall leaf pickup.

Last year, the city initiated a feces removal pilot project to collect feces based on complaints received through the 311 hotline and VanConnect online platform, and to “proactively patrol” for feces in the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown, and other areas of downtown. This involves a two-person response team for collection and sanitization using a disinfectant spray. In 2022, $100,000 is being provided to continue this feces removal pilot project.

It is estimated the 2021 grant funding resulted in the micro-cleaning in an area of seven square kilometres and within 22 BIAs, and the collection of 29,800 bags of garbage and 113,500 needles. Between March and December 2021, the funding removed 13,000 feces from the streets.

According to the city, micro-cleaning services are not traditionally performed by city crews, and the union representing city staff does not take issue with the ongoing program.

During December 2021’s budget decision, city council approved not only city staff’s direction of increasing the street cleaning structural budget for city crews by $298,000 for 2022 — from $11.32 million in 2021 to $11.618 million in 2022, but also a one-time enhanced street cleaning increase of $670,000 just for 2022.

Over the past two years, the municipal government has seen growing criticism over the visible increase in garbage, needles, and feces on city streets and other public spaces, especially within the downtown peninsula and near homeless encampments.

To address some of the litter concerns, the city has been incrementally replacing smaller waste bins with significantly larger bins with more capacity, and has made an effort to increase the frequency of emptying the bins.

The city’s 2021 public satisfaction survey results show there were high levels of support to maintain or increase services in public works, exceeding 70% in all categories and reaching 98% for street cleaning.

Beyond city programs, over the first half of 2021, about 7,600 volunteers participated in 3,300 cleanups, which was almost two and a half times the number of volunteers who participated in 2020.

Vancouver Coastal Health also operates a needle pick-up program with teams in vans conducting regular needle sweeps in school grounds, parks, and other public locations where there are high volumes of discarded needles. The public can also report discarded needles to the needle pick-up hotline.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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