In October 2019, the DVBIA held its first Downtown Safety Symposium. The objective of the event was to address important community safety concerns voiced by downtown Vancouver businesses, with a particular focus on security and common safety concerns. Key topics discussed throughout the event were:
Mental Health’s Place in Public Safety
Causes and Responses to Homelessness
Collaborative Approach to Managing Complex Offenders
Property Crime in the Downtown Core
Insight into Conflict Management and De-escalation
Throughout the Symposium, guests were given opportunities to ask our panellists questions; however, not all were able to be answered due to time constraints. Below is a list of questions that our panellists have responded to after the event.
Below you will find questions submitted by our guests. The questions have been separated by speaker/topic.
Sharon Lockhart – Director of Integrated Programs at the Downtown Community Court
Sharon has over 25 years of experience working with people involved in criminal justice, and their challenges with mental health, substance abuse, poverty, homelessness and reintegration into communities. She is also the Solicitor General of the Community Corrections Division.
What is being done to address the alarming number of theft from autos across the city?
We work with the Vancouver Police Department and receive current updates on theft from autos (TFA) and auto-related crime. Chronic offenders are linked to TFA, and the COMET program offers support and outreach to assist clients to stabilize in the community. We are expanding our outreach support through a community non-profit partner, assisting in finding homeless clients and connecting them to services during the week, as well as an after-hours and weekend outreach support worker. One of the critical pieces that have been shown to reduce recidivism is by removing chronic offenders from the streets and placing them in housing. Yet, we currently have a lack of housing in downtown Vancouver and the surrounding areas.
If someone coming through the DCC wants/is diverted to treatment, is it always available?
Clients considered appropriate for a diversion or the alternative measures program must first be approved by the Provincial Crown Counsel at DCC. Generally speaking, people are not diverted from the criminal justice system (CJS) through courts and then sent to treatment. Treatment is also not something that you can really direct someone to complete – they have to want the help – otherwise, you can set someone up for failure.
Those who are diverted are usually found to have less severe offences or limited criminal history, and having them go through the CJS would not be appropriate or necessarily serve a purpose. A simple example would be someone who steals some food from a store because they are hungry and homeless but otherwise do not commit crimes, are not violent and do not require a treatment program or other more intense wrap-around services. By directing them to complete community work service hours either at one of our community partners (Carnegie Community Centre, DTES Women’s Centre, etc.) or under the direct supervision of the Street Crew Supervisor (clean up in the allies, etc.), they have a timely connection to the offence as well as an opportunity to involve themselves in the community, and often contribute more hours than they are directed to complete by the court.
People who need treatment for substance use generally have committed crimes to support their addiction problem, but many clients we see at DCC have both mental health and substance use (MHSU). In many cases, stabilizing someone requires mental health supports first before their addiction can be addressed. Fentanyl and crystal methamphetamine are two of the more troubling drugs that we frequently see in client use at DCC. These clients would be screened by the DCC teams and may be referred to the Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver.
Who decides that an individual can go through community court?
The Downtown Community Court (DCC) is a geographically based court, with specific boundaries that include the seven BIA’s and Stanley Park. The police are responsible for arrests and charges and Crown Counsel determine if the matter should stay at DCC or be transferred to another court. DCC is a sentencing only court – not a trial court – so if someone wants to plead guilty, they can do so, but their matter will be transferred next door to the Vancouver Provincial Court (222 Main Street) for trial. DCC is a problem-solving court, which looks to find solutions for people who commit crimes and help them get out of the CJS cycle. The DCC focuses primarily on Summary Offences (less serious) such as mischief, theft under $5,000.00, aggressive panhandling, TFA, and drug possession. Individuals can plead guilty and have their matter dealt with in a timely process, and for those who are assessed as needing additional supports and services, can be supported by our Case Management Teams, COMET, or the Mental Health Bail Program (MHP). Housing, poverty, addiction and mental health are the primary issues that someone coming into one of the teams is often challenged with.
Sharon Lockhart’s Safety Symposium presentation can be found here.
Celine Mauboules – Director of Homelessness Services at the City of Vancouver
Celine is a registered professional planner with almost 20 years of experience working in mission-driven organizations, focused on improving the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. She has worked both in government and the non-profit sector.
How do we volunteer to participate in the Vancouver homeless count?
The 2020 Count will take place in early March. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be added to the email list for more information as we get closer to recruiting volunteers.
Do you think a model like a foster home structure would work for homelessness?
I think there is merit to many different models to support people to exit homelessness and a foster home structure would work well for some.
May I please know which shelters allow pets?
See the attached list here. You can also call BC211 to find out info about vacancies, entry requirements, contact info, etc.
Homelessness was not a problem in Vancouver in the 80s, where did we go wrong?
Low vacancy rates, and incomes not keeping pace with drastic increases in the cost of housing. Those are the primary drivers – and Vancouver is not unique. I also think that deinstitutionalization (closure of Riverview) and inadequate supports for people to live independently has impacted homelessness.
Why congregate all these services in the downtown area?
Historically, this is where the majority of services have existed. I agree, however, that homelessness is not isolated to the downtown area alone, and services, housing and supports are needed to support people in their communities across the city and region.
Is giving cash to homeless panhandlers recommended or discouraged?
You must make that decision for yourself. I personally give money, sometimes I invite someone for a meal, or sometimes I just take time to have a conversation and learn more about how the person is doing.
Celine Mauboules’ Safety Symposium presentation can be found here.
Vancouver Police Department’s presentation can be found here.
This webpage will be regularly updated as we continue to receive answers to questions from our speakers.