Dr. Trevor Hancock
30 August 2022
Shorten and add in more examples from out-takes
There is a concept in health promotion called victim-blaming – blaming smokers, for example, when in reality they are the victims of a sophisticated marketing campaign. The same concept applies to the tendency by many to blame the City of Victoria for problems such as homelessness, unaffordable housing, mental health and addictions problems and crime and violence. And with municipal elections coming up, its only going to get worse.
But in reality, these are not problems created mainly, if at all by the City, so they cannot be solved by the City. Both the causes and the solutions lie elsewhere, usually in federal and provincial policy decisions, sometimes in the actions (or inactions) of the courts, health professionals and others.
Let’s begin with mental health problems. In the 1980s there was a move to close psychiatric institutions, because they were seen as inhumane, and send people out into the community. This was a provincial decision, and was supposed to be accompanied by moving funding into the community. But by and large that did not happen, at least not anywhere near enough, leaving people who are already challenged to live on the streets, which is also inhumane.
Let’s imagine for a moment that we are talking about cancer treatment rather than treatment for people with mental health and addiction problems. Would we have closed the cancer treatment centres if we found inhumane treatment and sent the patients home to get community-based care? Would we then have under-funded the community-based care? Would we be OK with cancer patients living on the streets and not getting the care they need? Or would we fix the problem by addressing the inhumanity and providing quality care, rather than perpetuate it elsewhere. ?
Then there is the related problem of homelessness. We know from the March 2020 Homeless Count and Survey that almost two-thirds of people who are homeless had a substance use issue, well over half had a mental health issue and almost one-third an acquired brain injury. These are not people who should be living on the street. As Don Evans, then CEO of Our Place, wrote in this newspaper in October 2019 (before Covid) “It is almost impossible to stabilize someone and provide proper care until they have a safe place to lay their head at night.” So why are they homeless and on the street, where they are only made worse?
Well in part because of the closing of mental health faciltiies, as already mnoted, and in part because of a lack of suitable housing. As retired nurse Jo Vipond argued recently in this newspaper, “psychiatric housing needs to be provided for homeless people who are mentally ill”
As to camping in the parks, that came from two main factors: The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in 2009 that people had a right to shelter in the parks if adequate shelter was not available to them, and then Covid made it necessary for people who were homeless to be sheltered in the parks until proper shelter could be provided. So it was the decisions of legal and health authorities that led to the situation in the first place, coupled with federal and provincial under-funding of social housing.
Clearly, the City of Victoria and other local municipalities did not create the policies and practices that have caused the problem, and it is unfair to expect them to fix the problem. This is not to say that local governments cannot be part of the solution, but they are not the ones who should be held accountable. It is not fair to blame the victim – in this case, the City – for policy and program failures coming from other levels of government.
A recent national survey by . . . . . looked at people’s views on their downtowns, and found – surprise, surprise – great concern about poverty, homelessness, mental health and addictions. But as . . . . , Mossop, . . . . . of . . . . , commented: “It’s a national and provincial health crisis, it’s homelessness . . . It goes much deeper than what a local mayor can do.” Or as Randy Hatfield, Executive Director of the Human Development Council in St John NB, succinctly put it at a recent conference I attended: “The federal government has the resources, the provinces have the responsibility, the municipalities have the consequences.”
So let’s not blame the City of Victoria – or any other municiaplity – for the failures of the federal and provincial governments.
The City does not have the jurisdiction, power, authority or resources to fully address and solve these problems, although of course it can play a role in many of them
© Trevor Hancock, 2022
Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the
University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy
We think B.C. downtowns are in decline: poll
High number of people working from home cited as a reason
Times Colonist, 16 Aug 2022
See also “Psychiatric housing needs to be provided for homeless people who are mentally ill“