Vancouver Province column: The homeless and drug-addicted can be anywhere, so let’s just face up to it

Vancouver has a problem with drugs and homelessness. This is nothing new. But what might surprise some observers is that even the metro’s leafy North Shore is also affected. Read on.

Published: Monday, July 09, 2007
R ich Coleman, the B.C. Minister Responsible for Housing, certainly touched a provincewide nerve recently when he said that Vancouver’s growing homeless population might do better outside the misery of the Downtown Eastside.
Coleman’s push for a new approach makes good sense, since it would give drug addicts and the mentally ill a chance for a fresh start in places like the Fraser Valley or farther into the B.C. Interior. But his philosophy isn’t going down well with those British Columbians who fear a massive influx of Vancouver’s homeless into their idyllic communities.
Funny thing is, the howling from beyond Vancouver’s city limits has drowned out any recognition that the province’s homeless are in some cases already receiving a warmer welcome beyond the intersection of Main and Hastings.

Case in point: The North Shore, of all places, and specifically, the City of North Vancouver.
Instead of shipping out his municipality’s down-and-out to the Downtown Eastside — as suburban politicians have done in the past — the city’s mayor, Darrell Mussatto, says he would rather see these folks get help and shelter on his own turf, at the city’s own homeless shelter.
And Mussatto isn’t wilting under pressure from the NIMBYs, who are especially vocal in this area.
“The City is unique on the North Shore,” Mussatto recently told me. “The old ways of doing things, while inviting, is not sustainable.” Not that things are all hunky-dory north of Burrard Inlet. Drugs, vagrancy and homelessness are issues that are showing up across the North Shore — but particularly near the gentrifying Lower Lonsdale area, and in the industrial and forested areas close to the waterfront.
Small shanty towns are even popping up. For many of the local addicts, sleeping in the alleyways, under a bridge or in the woods is preferable to following the rules that exist within the city shelter.
I’ve seen first-hand this gloomier side of the North Shore. While hiking recently through some wooded trails near the city’s industrial zone, I came across several newly-abandoned squats.
And a North Vancouver city worker told me last summer that parks staff are now vigilant about discarded needles.
This past fall, a mentally challenged young man was found murdered in the forest just west of Capilano Mall.
It’s a disturbing picture that threatens to undermine an otherwise impressive effort to transform the city into something of a San Francisco North — complete with hipster cafes, yoga studios, dense neighbourhoods and seawalk strolls.
To Mussatto’s credit, he’s not running from these problems. Like other civic leaders across B.C, he’s coming to grips with the new reality in this province.
Runaway drug addiction and homelessness aren’t simply the domain of B.C.’s largest city anymore.
They can show up anywhere, even in the Pleasantville known as the North Shore.
dmoscato@yahoo.com

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