Vancouver seeks coordinator for decriminalization of poverty report

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

The city of Vancouver plans to hire a coordinator this summer to prepare a report for the city council detailing measures the city can take to “decriminalize poverty” and reduce police interactions with marginalized citizens.

A description of the coordinator’s duties is outlined in a document the city posted on its bidding page in December and is in response to a motion passed by the council in July 2020 calling for police services to be “de-priority”. in response to mental health, sex work, homelessness, and substance use.

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

The Council has set aside a budget of $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 position, so cannot comment on the exact amount allocated until that process is complete,” the city’s communications department said in an emailed statement Friday. “We expect to have found a coordinator around February.”

‘Criminalized by police action’

Whoever that person is must have established working relationships with communities in the Downtown Eastside and throughout the city, and significant experience working with people experienced in poverty who have interacted with the justice system.

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

The work is expected to be challenging, as a memo from city staff to the council in November indicated, detailing the staff’s efforts to reach agreement with 13 organizations on how best to collect feedback from marginalized people.

The East Hastings Street strip in the Downtown Eastside. File photo Dan Toulgoet

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

“At the end of June 2021, staff received important feedback from the 13 organizations named in the motion about the process and several of the named organizations advised the [Downtown Eastside] community for not getting involved in the process,” said the memo from Sandra Singh, the city’s general manager of community services.

“Staff informed the board that the process was stalled and that staff would continue to consult with the civil society organizations they were given to seek input and stay informed of 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 be involved in providing input for selection criteria and hiring the coordinator.

‘Peer-assisted crisis team’

Meanwhile, Singh noted in her memo that one idea consistently put forward in the meetings was the need for some sort of pilot program to divert mental health services and other calls that do not require a police response to other “community service providers.”

Singh said the City of Victoria is working with the BC division of the Canadian Mental Health Association to develop such a temporary program, with provincial government funds being spent on a peer-assisted crisis team.

“Staff will investigate what such a pilot would entail and report back before the broader motion report comes back,” she said.

“Another topic regularly identified by community groups is how the city is dealing with people who are homeless or have inadequate housing while cleaning sidewalks and other public areas, so staff will also explore these concerns and discuss possible changes or alternatives. “

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

“The VPD is committed to ensuring that inappropriate, ineffective and unnecessary criminalization does not occur, but rather focuses on community-based harm reduction strategies in partnership with community service providers,” the report said, highlighting the work of its mental health strategies. . , sex industry liaison officer and homeless coordinator.

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer at a blanket ceremony at the Aboriginal Friendship Center in 2015. File photo Dan Toulgoet

Police Chief Adam Palmer told: Glacier Media in June 2020 that if the community wants the VPD to do things differently, it wants to sit down at the table.

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

Palmer added: “The things we consistently hear from people talking about this [defund the police] movement are things like the police not responding to mental health calls, the police not responding to domestic violence, the police not responding to such calls. I will remind the community that the people who are asking the police not to go to mental health, have been calling for years and putting in a better system, is the police.”


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