The commissioner of Vancouver’s controversial Project Civil City has presented his first progress report to city council and although his overseers looked like a team in their black-and-orange B.C. Lions jerseys, they broke along party lines in their assessment of the document.
Mayor Sam Sullivan called former provincial attorney general Geoff Plant’s report “very impressive” and his fellow NPA councillors joined in the praise. The minority Vison/COPE faction continued to worry the project could criminalize poverty and called Plant’s work a waste of time and money.
“There are successful programs in this city that need funding,” said Coun. Raymond Louie, adding that Plant’s presentation failed to provide new insights. “Why is it that we have to delay?”
The Civil City project passed last year calls for the elimination of homelessness, the open drug market and aggressive panhandling, starting with 50 per cent reductions in all three by 2010.
When Plant became the project commissioner in May, he took on the task of establishing four benchmarks that would make it possible to chart progress in these three areas and in public satisfaction with the city’s response to nuisance complaints. But six months into his job, Plant has only produced one, pegging the number of homeless at 2,000.
Although alternative counts exist, the report calls the chosen figure “an acceptable estimate.” Representing a more than 50 per cent increase on the 2005 number, this benchmark could be both good and bad news for Mayor Sullivan, according to housing activist David Eby. While it suggests Vancouver’s homelessness problem has intensified on the current mayor’s watch, an overestimation might increase the chances of a triumphant announcement in 2010.
Plant blamed the recent three-month city workers’ strike and his need to learn about the realities of Vancouver for limited progress that went beyond the missing benchmarks. For example, the project’s Leadership Council has yet to hold a single session to allow discussions between elected members of all levels of government as well as community leaders and service providers. But he bristled at the suggestion that nothing tangible was happening and remained guardedly optimistic that city and provincial policies were on the right track.
“We will make a dent in the homelessness problem,” Plant told reporters after his presentation. “But I don’t know yet if there will be a 50 per cent reduction in homelessness by 2010.”
Maybe making the commissioner’s post a full-time job would help.