Vancouver seeks coordinator for report on decriminalization of poverty

Police Chief Adam Palmer: “It can’t be just a reaction to suddenly cut off the police and see what happens.”

The city of Vancouver plans to hire a coordinator to produce a report for the council by this summer that includes steps the city can take to “decriminalize poverty” and reduce police interactions with marginalized citizens.

A job description of the coordinator is outlined in a document the city published in December on its application page and follows a motion approved by council in July 2020 which called for the police to be ‘deprioritized’ in response to health. mental. , sex work, homelessness and drug addiction calls.

According to the motion, the council’s goal is to redirect funds from the Vancouver Police Department’s budget so that community-led groups, nonprofits, health agencies and social service providers respond to such calls.

The council has budgeted $ 300,000 for the overall initiative, but the city has not disclosed how much the coordinator will be paid, although the contract is expected to last six months.

“We are in the middle of a [request for proposal] process for the post therefore cannot comment on the exact amount allocated until this process is completed, ”the city’s communications department said on Friday in an emailed statement. “We expect to have identified a coordinator around February.”

“Criminalized by police actions”

Whoever this person is, they must have established working relationships with the Downtown Eastside and City communities, and have significant experience working with people who have lived in poverty and have had interactions with the justice system.

The candidate must also “demonstrate knowledge and understanding of how poverty is criminalized through police actions, city bylaws and other means,” according to the document on the city’s application page.

The job is expected to be tough, as a note from city staff to council in November pointed out, detailing staff attempts to reach consensus with 13 organizations on how best to get feedback from marginalized people.

The East Hastings Street Strip in the Downtown Eastside. Dan Toulgoet archive photo

The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, Battered Women’s Support Services, BC Civil Liberties Association, Hogan’s Alley Society and Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society were among 13 organizations represented in the talks.

“At the end of June 2021, staff received important feedback from the 13 organizations named in the motion regarding the process and several of the named organizations informed the [Downtown Eastside] community not to engage in the process, ”said the memo written by Sandra Singh, general manager of community services for the city.

“Staff informed the board that the process has stalled and staff will discuss further with community organizations where they have been asked to seek feedback and update a revised process. “

Subsequent discussions led the city and the groups to agree that a coordinator was needed to move the project forward. Community groups will participate in the development of selection criteria and the hiring of the coordinator.

“Peer Assisted Crisis Team”

Meanwhile, Singh noted in his memo that an idea that came up regularly in meetings was the need for some type of trial program to deflect mental health calls and others that don’t require response from the police to other ‘community service providers’.

Singh said the city of Victoria was working with the British Columbia branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association to develop such a temporary program, with provincial government funds to be spent on a “team of peer-assisted crisis ”.

“Staff will work to explore what such a pilot would entail and report back before the larger motion report,” she said.

“Another topic consistently identified by community groups is how the city interacts with those who are homeless or in inadequate housing while undertaking the clean-up of sidewalks and other public spaces, and staff will therefore explore these concerns as well and discuss potential changes or alternatives.

The VPD, meanwhile, released a report in November 2020 titled “Our Community in Need,” which referred to the council’s motion to decriminalize poverty. The VPD said he recognizes that social issues, including mental health, homelessness, substance use and sex work, intersect with public safety.

“The VPD strives to ensure that no inappropriate, ineffective and unnecessary criminalization occurs, but instead focuses on community-based harm reduction strategies in collaboration with community service providers,” said the report, which said highlighted the work of its mental health strategies. , Sex Industry Liaison and Homeless Outreach Coordinator.

Palmer Blanket
Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer at a covering ceremony at the Native Friendship Center in 2015. File photo Dan Toulgoet

Police Chief Adam Palmer said Ice cream media in June 2020 that if the community wants to see the VPD doing things differently, then he wants to be at the table.

“I want to be a part of those discussions, but it has to be an informed discussion and it has to be evidence-based and thoughtful discussion,” Palmer said. “It can’t be just a reaction to suddenly cut off the police and see what happens.”

Palmer added, “The things we regularly hear with people who talk about it [defund the police] movement are things like police not responding to mental health calls, police not responding to domestic violence, police not responding to calls like that. I will remind the community that the people who have been asking the police not to go to mental health calls for years and to put a better system in place are the police. “

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