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Robertson promises mental health advocate, more rental housing

Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson outlined his party's position on homelessness at a Tyee and 24 Hours-sponsored debate at St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church last night:

The horrific death of Darrell Mickasko was what catalyzed my decision to run for mayor.

Darrell burned to death trying to stay warm on a freezing cold night last January after being turned away from a full shelter just blocks from city hall.

His death – and he’s one of many who’ve died from homelessness in Vancouver – cannot be in vain. There are vitally important issues facing our city, but we need a mayor who is committed to ending homelessness.

My goal is to end street homelessness by 2015 in Vancouver.

We need a clear goal and we need the whole city to focus on solutions. On day one as your mayor I will put the action back in the Homeless Action Plan. I'll convene emergency meetings to kick-start the solutions that we need.

Here are some of the steps that we will take if we as Vision Vancouver are elected a majority on November 15.

First, we will ensure that there are enough shelter beds. We have to do better for the hundreds of people who are sleeping on our streets, in our parks. And under my leadership we will.

I understand that Mr. Ladner opposes more shelter spaces. I will let him speak to that.

Second, we will use city bylaws to keep affordable rental buildings safe and open. The NPA has in effect protected slumlords by failing to enforce even the most minimum standards of cleanliness and safety.

Again, I will let Peter explain this failure. But if I become mayor I will make sure that we keep buildings open, even if we have to conduct repairs at the owner’s expense. I will also expand the single room accommodation bylaw throughout the entire city.

Third, we will improve outreach services to the homeless so they can get off the streets and rebuild their lives. Today there are assertive community treatment teams of field staff who are helping people get off the streets and stay off the street.

It’s a step in the right direction and we need to expand it in concert with the housing first approach that finds homes for those who are just needing a home.

Fourth, we will establish a mental health advocate. People need access to housing, of course, but many also need better treatment and healthcare. We will appoint a qualified expert to coordinate services and providers and to foster education and prevention in our schools.

Fifth, we will expand local hiring and training programs to help street youth.

We need to provide opportunities for young people who are on the street to learn new skills, both on the job and in their lives. We have made in Vancouver models right across the street at Directions and with the Bladerunners initiative, which have been very successful with bringing training and jobs to kids who have no hope.

Sixth, we will protect existing low income rental units and fight for rentors' rights.

The city will ensure that there is no reduction in the total rental housing stock we have here and focus on creating new rental housing.

We will pursue federal tax incentives for rental housing and we'll lobby Victoria for changes to the Residential Tenancy Act and improve service here in Vancouver.

Finally, as your mayor I will be your strong voice in Victoria and Ottawa. I will build strong relations with all levels of government and ensure they live up to the responsiblities for investment.

We will be announcing our full agenda as Vision Vancouver in just a few days.

Together we're going to bring this city the change that it needs.

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