Thursday, May 8, 2008

Debate in the Legislature on Homelessness -- May 7

The following are excerpts from the estimates debate in the legislature on May 7, between David Chudnovsky, Opposition Critic for Homelessnes and Rich Coleman, Minister responsible for Homelessness:

D. Chudnovsky: How many homeless people are there in B.C.?

Hon. R. Coleman: It's not a quantifiable number. With our homeless counts that we do in communities in Metro Vancouver, Vancouver, greater Victoria…. It's about 4,500 in the major population of British Columbia. If you extracted those numbers out you might be up to 7,000 to 8,000 people, depending on which count you were taking. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

The reality is that there is no quantifiable number that is available. There have been different speculations by different reports without any actually quantified backup either, where the numbers range. So it's not possible to give you a definitive number. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

We do know what the count was in Vancouver. We do know what the count was in the Fraser Valley. We do know what the count is in Victoria. If you look at those population bases and you extract it across the population of B.C., you can extract up to a number of maybe 6,000 plus. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: Well, I want to deal first with what the minister has just said. We seem to have housed 2,000 homeless people in the time it took the minister to answer the question. He started by saying to extract the Lower Mainland and Victoria numbers you'd get about 8,000, then he finished by saying 6,000. So — or extrapolate the numbers — you would get 8,000, and then he said 6,000. Which is it? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: Well, I did say over 6,000. Like I said, the number is not quantifiable.


D. Chudnovsky: The minister says that the number of homeless people in the province is not quantifiable. How does he respond, therefore, to the research done by the Simon Fraser group, which reported in October that, for the groups with severe addictions and mental health problems — just those groups — their work indicates between 8,000 and 15,500 homeless people in British Columbia. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Does the minister discount those figures? Does he think they're wrong? What's his view of those figures? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: Well, I'll tell you what my view is. They're wrong. Flat out, they're wrong. The official counts that we've done clearly show us that in all the communities across…. In most of the communities we've done it, we add them up, including Metro Vancouver, Victoria, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Smithers, Williams Lake, the Sunshine Coast, Saltspring Island and other areas across the province. The numbers are around 4,899, if that count is actually correct and there wasn't any duplication, which is also hard to quantify. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

I know that the member's website has the same numbers at 6,624, so he's out, by what the official count that was done was. He also has a larger number on the Lower Mainland, which is out by almost a thousand with regards to what the official count was. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

So I can't say that the Simon Fraser guys are that accurate when they say 8,000 to 15,500 is the number, which they're saying it is. It's a pretty big range. It tells me that they didn't actually do a count. But I know that we've done the count. We continue to do it with our community groups, and we'll continue to do that. What we're doing is trying to respond to the problem. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: Could the minister indicate for us what he thinks is wrong with the Simon Fraser methodology? What is wrong with the methodology of the Simon Fraser study? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: Clearly, the Simon Fraser study was done on informal interviews. That's pretty much wrong if you're going to put the number to something and try and say: "That's a social problem, and this is the number." I thought that was very weak research, quite frankly, especially when we do counts. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]


D. Chudnovsky: I want to probe a little bit further with the minister, who seems, today at least, to be confident about the counts that have been done by community organizations. The minister would agree with me — would he not? — that in every single case that the community organizations did counts, they indicated that their counts were conservative and that they think, based on their experience, that there are significantly more homeless people than the counts showed. Would the minister agree with me that that is what has happened with every single community count? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: First of all, I won't agree with the comment that in every single case…. There may have been some people that were doing the count that felt…. They may have had their individual opinions and comments. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

We do the count. We do it with volunteers. We do it with the best methodology we have. We try and improve that methodology for the next count, which we will do. Quite frankly, we have to work with the numbers we get, and it's the best measurement we have today out of all the processes we have. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: The minister will know — or I hope he will know — that, for instance, not individuals but the organizers of the Vancouver Metro count, both in their written material and in their presentation, which was made publicly for the media and the public at the time of the announcement of the count, said very, very clearly and warned everyone who was listening that their count was extremely conservative. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Similarly, the minister will know or should know that at the Fraser Valley count announcement, which was done several weeks ago, the organizers of the count — not some individual, not somebody's opinion, the organizers of the count, the very people who he says he has confidence in — said that they are completely convinced, based on their methodology [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

— and their methodology is based on the work of reputable social scientists, in both cases — that their numbers were a significant undercount and conservative. Is the minister aware of those things? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: Well, I'm aware that the member opposite is upset because he came up with a phony number, in his mind, and it didn't reflect in the count. It's been bothering him ever since, which is fine. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

We will go with the count. We believe that it's the best methodology we have today. If we can improve the methodology in the future, we'll do that. But certainly from the standpoint of whether the number is high or low, it depends on whether it's conservative or not. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Actually, I've talked to different organizations involved in the count, and some thought that there were a number of double counts done in some communities with regards to people who were counted more than once — people that were in a shelter and were also counted on the street. They had concerns about that. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

So that's always going to be a challenge with regards to the count. But, quite frankly, the numbers are the numbers we have from the counts, and those are the numbers that we work with. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: I'm, of course, not privileged to be with the minister when he speaks to people from various organizations who tell him what they tell him. I was, though, privileged to be at both the announcement of the Metro count and Fraser Valley count, and I was there to hear the organizers — not individuals, not individual organizations, but the very organizers that the minister, just a few minutes ago, said he had confidence in. I was there to hear them very, very clearly, in both cases, say that their counts were significantly undercounted, and they were conservative. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

So the minister can interpret that any way he wants to, but it seems to me that in the first ten minutes of estimates he's unfortunately insulted the researchers at Simon Fraser University and the organizers of the Metro and Fraser Valley counts. That's his privilege, and he gets to do that if he wants. Is it important to know how many homeless people there are in British Columbia? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: Certainly, it is important to know — have an idea of the numbers, hon. Member, because you build your programs around that. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: So why don't we know? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: The methodology that's used is used with volunteers. We go out, we fund these things, and we know the numbers as best we can by the methodology we use. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Can we improve the methodology in the future? That's a possibility, and that's what we're looking at now as we go forward. So we try and work with the non-profit sectors, etc. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Quite frankly, we take the count at the face value it is. It comes into the matrix of what we're looking at with regards to housing, and it certainly instructs us with some information that we find we can use as we're trying to build programs. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

D. Chudnovsky: Which counts did the ministry fund? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. R. Coleman: We fund different ones from time to time. We also fund the organizations, frankly, who are clients of ours, who actually use their volunteers and their organizations as well. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]


Jeannette Montroy said...

Not sure if you would remember me or not, but I was a student of yours at NSSS - in "South Africa" Socials 10 (although unfortunately I did not go on the trip).

Anyways, I just wanted to comment to thank you for all of your hard work on this issue. I currently live in DTES and see the implications of the homelessness issue everytime I walk out my door.

Also - maybe you don't want to comment on this subject, or can't get, given that not all candidates have released all the information, but of all the mayoral candidates who have thrown their hats in the ring, do you have an opinion on who is best equipped or has the best ideas to deal with the DTES side issues?

David Chudnovsky, MLA said...

Hi Jeannette,

Thanks so much for your message. I do remember your name, but haven't yet got a picture of you in my head. It's always that way for us old timer teachers.

It would be great to get a chance to meet. I am in the DTES a lot and maybe we can arrange something.

As for the mayoral campaign, my priority is making sure that there is unity among progressive people and organizations so that we can defeat Sullivan and the NPA. That means Vision and COPE need to get together to run one mayoral candidate who represents both parties.

I have been and remain a COPE member for almost 30 years, but I am willing and eager to work together with Vision. So far, they have not shown much of an inclination to do so. So my energy will go into trying to encourage that co-operation.

Until that happens I'm not going to throw my support behind any of the people who are running for mayor -- except, of course, to oppose Sullivan and the NPA.

Thanks again for writing. Hope to see you soon.


Anonymous said...

David, it seems to me that the minister did not take into account all the communities like my small one here who dont believe that there is a homeless problem in their own community. We have seen it here where classes other than those in the know just dont believe that there is a problem. How can you address issues like that with any reasonableness at all.
Sorry, probably no solutions...just a reality check. Keep up the good work. This defiantely needs attention.