The Challenge of Housing and Homelessness

Guest Blog by raincoaster – presenting a challenge

“The view is more beautiful now that it is mine.” Ran

Hendrik Gets His Chair by AHA Media

I can be challenging. Boris knows it, Melissa knows it, the nation of Albania knows it, I know it, you know it (well you know now, don’t you?). So I’d like to put this inherent challengenosity (a raincoasterism) of mine to good use and dare your city to match or beat my city in something that really matters. Read on, if you think your humble burb has what it takes:

We all know this blog belongs to the Mayor of London (although detached it is still his in spirit), and before that was based out of the cosmopolitan megalopolis of Henley, but for a moment I’d like to divert your attention to my own town, indeed my own neighborhood. I’d like to introduce you to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.                                                        (More photos of Hendrik on his revolving chair here)

Queen of Hastings Street
Queen of Hastings Street

With an average life expectancy in the mid-forties (thanks to disease, addiction, and the interlocking social and physical problems arising from substandard- or no housing), the DTES (Downtown Eastside) has been an archetypal skid row since the days in the last century when lumber was, in fact, skidded in the mud down the street on its way to the sawmill because wagons were for the rich folk.

Now, after more than a century of struggling with the issue, I’m proud to say that Vancouver has eliminated homelessness.

Image by Peter Davies, From the Hope in Shadows collection, COPYRIGHT: Pivot Legal Society, 2009

Yes, Homelessness is Over!  Watch this amazing news story



We anticipate increased life expectancy (as much as thirty years for DTES residents), a significant drop in crime (particularly violent crime), and an estimated $5000 per person “housing dividend,” reflecting the difference in social service expenditures between the housed and the homeless.

Gregor Robertson at Union Gospel Mission by AHA mediaIf a Canadian may toot her city’s own horn, this is truly an amazing accomplishment and Mayor Gregor (Robertson), Premier Gordon Campbell, City Hall, social service agencies, advocacy groups and officials at all levels should be very, very proud. I salute them. Who can even imagine how it must feel to know, unequivocally, that you’ve changed the world for the better.

Gregor Robertson at Union Gospel Mission by AHA Media

Here is the official Homelessness is Over press release, via the Pivot Legal Society, a great organization whose mandate is to ensure that the laws of the nation apply equally to all, and who are always on top of positive (and negative) developments in housing for the homeless in Vancouver:

Vancouver Ends Homelessness!  City’s last homeless person moves into social housing

November 24, 2009 – For Immediate Release

Right to Shelter by Kathy Acoby
Right to Shelter by Kathy Acoby

Vancouver’s housing crisis is finally over. Today Ray Solda, Vancouver’s last homeless person, moved into his room in the Kansas Hotel, a new social housing building funded by the provincial government. Government officials and Canadians everywhere today are celebrating the end of homelessness in Vancouver, a city that has struggled with a homelessness crisis for years.

Today’s announcement is the result of a number of key investments made by the provincial government to build social and supportive housing as part of their visionary comprehensive housing strategy. Despite the up-front costs, government and experts alike are confident that ending homelessness in Vancouver will actually save money over the long term.

Gypsy by Paul Taylor
Gypsy by Paul Taylor

“The years of spiralling rates of homelessness, derelict hotels, over-crowded shelters and laws punishing those without a safe place to live are going to be remembered as a dark page in this province’s history” says Laura Track, Pivot’s housing campaigner. “But the way this government changed course and resolved the crisis is a testament to what is possible when governments show real leadership and determination to make positive social change.”

Saint Nicholas and the Tree of Life and Hope by Robyn Livingstone
Saint Nicholas and the Tree of Life and Hope by Robyn Livingstone

Already, Vancouver is being held up as model for the rest of the country. Governments around the world are looking to the province for guidance in addressing homelessness in their jurisdictions.  When asked what role she felt advocacy work had in ending homelessness, Track commented: “This accomplishment is the result of people coming together and saying they would not settle for anything less than an end to homelessness. It took everyday people saying yes, I will welcome social housing into my neighbourhood and taxpayers recognizing that it makes financial sense to tackle homelessness. Finally, it took governments hearing the call and making the decision to act.”


 Once again: simply amazing. This is an incredible example to the rest of the world.

So you tell me: does London have what it takes?


You can learn more about London’s Housing and Homelessness Strategy here

43 thoughts on “The Challenge of Housing and Homelessness”

  1. Well what an amazing piece, homelessness is a truly awful thing , once you become homeless it is such a strain trying to get back on your feet and many people are never able to find a way back into a safe living enviroment.

    Through homelessness many turn to drink and drugs on the pennies they manage to somehow aquire, we all look down on those living on our streets for using this money to buy liquor and such but with no shelter or hope of shelter they use these things simply to keep them warm.
    Many of these people would never dream of drinking or drug taking in a normal situation but are forced to do so through this way of living.

    If only we could do the same and take each one of these people off of our streets, we could greatly reduce the amount of street crime , put alot of these drug pushers out of business and give hope, safety and a better quality of lie to all those in need. Many of these people are at heart good people who have been cast out on the streets through no fault of their own.
    One of my best friends would of been in that awful situation today had i not given her my sofa for 6 months ,
    its just so hard to get access to housing when you have no fixed abode.

    Hopefully we can follow in Vancouver’s footsteps!

  2. Boris 🙂

    Thank you so much for “writing” about our neighbourhood, the Vancouver Downtown Eastside! 🙂 I am very pleased that Lorraine Murphy aka Raincoaster, my mentor is your guest blogger for your blog.

    It wasn’t too long ago that I was homeless in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside.. I am the product of how housing can affect and change someone’s life so dramatically!

    My life is better now.. thanks to housing provided to me. 🙂

    Together with my friends, Hendrik Beune and Peter Davies, (mentored in great part by Lorrain Murphy aka Raincoaster) – we founded a social media reporting company called AHA MEDIA – Part of our community work is to provide an ongoing observational views of our neighborhood Vancouver Downtown Eastside 🙂

    Thank you for working on solutions to solve Homelessness in your city!

    Thank you

  3. this story is utterly inspiring and – as you say – this is an incredible example to the rest of the world.

    My own town – though excellent in many ways does not, has not and I fear may never wrap its municipal head around the issue of homelessness. I could churn out a ton of explanations as to why but explanations are not excuse. There really isn’t any excuse for the fact that New York City has not – what was it they used to say on my report cards – fulfilling it’s potential when it comes to this issue.

    Cheers, Vancouver on an important job well done. May it be the start of a trend in other forward thinking cities.

    And cheers, raincoaster 🙂 You may be challenging but you are never, ever dull.

  4. Thanks, as I said on Facebook earlier, this is the ONLY time in my life I work for a millionaire for free.

    Didn’t the sainted Saint Rudy try to solve the homeless problem by picking up people and having the cops dump them in New Jersey? We’ve got a variation of that, thanks to the Olympics; the cops can pick them up and dump them on the doorstep of a shelter (whether or not there is room) but they’re not allowed to actually pull their guns and force people inside.

  5. Great post, Raincoaster.

    As for the challenge I was alarmed to read this blog post relating one foreigners view of London. Happily we have had another foreigners view detailed on this blog but I invite all readers to consider their city and contribute comments; Raincoaster has highlighted a great achievement, what can we do to make our own cities follow this worthwhile lead? Especially at Xmas.

    The Salvation Army is broadcasting an appeal to help the homeless, the forgotton and the neglected at Xmas. Their webite is here.

  6. in the previous thread, philipa asked, “Is having children bad or is there an acceptable quota”. It’s relevant to this thread too.

    Not having children is the biggest contribution you can make to global warming and a load of other problems. I presume you’re aware of how many Boris Johnson has, and of the type of car (or cars for all I know) he ferries them around in.

  7. Fab post raincoaster – can we all move to Vancouver?!

    If only we could clear the pavements, streets and parks in London of all the homeless street people the whole capital would improve aesthetically and hygienically too.

    The only downside is: what would all those Big Issue sellers do?

  8. We in the UK are obviously not challengenosity challenged enough are we – we just walk past the homeless, often rushing past with too many other cares to notice or take any action.

    Boris and others should take note and see if something dramatic could be done.

    *poke, poke*

  9. @hotjon hot: “Not having children is the biggest contribution you can make to global warming” – you’re making no sense at all, please explain or get with the programme. Or just shut up; we get that you don’t like Boris.

  10. Brilliant spoof. So brilliant I’m afraid most people missed the “If you want it” at the end. Most unfortunate that it tells the story only of what could be, not what is

  11. Philipa asked what the following means: “Not having children is the biggest contribution you can make to global warming”

    OK let me spell it out: Not having children is the biggest contribution an individual can make to alleviate climate change.

    Does that help?

    Boris Johnson’s lifestyle is selfish in that it would be unsustainable if even a small minority of people lived like that.

    Many find him a hypocrite on many matters.

  12. @hotjon hot: You didn’t say that, you said the opposite and not having children is surely not a contribution (poor choice of phrase there) and anyway, no it doesn’t.

    You can’t prove a negative and I doubt you can actually prove that having children alleviates climate change. But hey, be my guest.. ?

    By your reckoning I guess you jumping off a very high building would alleviate climate change (net) but please don’t. You could always start a campaign for mass suicide in the interests of alleviating climate change (Lemmings R Us?) but I suggest considering the contribution to climate change your PC is having, you wanton murderer of polar bears you! Throw it away immediately if you care at all and are not an utter hypocrite (I assume you already do not eat beef or wear leather). Personally I couldn’t give a stuff. Received wisdom on global warming is just another excuse to tax people more.

    Incidentally how are you keeping warm in your yurt?

  13. WTF are you talking about? I was downtown yesterday and I can tell you that homelessness is not fixed. Far from it….

  14. My mistake: not moderated: posted on the previous thread:

    dmnyc said “I wasn’t aware that having your own transportation, housing and children made one selfish. How interesting. I presume you have none of the above else”


    Having excess in any area makes on selfish. Boris Johnson is a very rich man from a silver spoon background who frequently promotes his own self interest above fair-play, for example in accepting free office space from a property developer during the campaign.

  15. If I can add a critical voice – I’m not sure this would work in London. Firstly, there are a lot of hostels for the homeless already, just there are more homeless folk than beds, and they fall roughly into three categories:

    a) Drunk Glasweigans, many probably receiving incapacity benefit by standing order and have just popped down the East-Coast Mainline for a kind of summer holiday where they sit around drinking cheap cider and people watching in the capital.

    b) Heroin addicts, if you offer them a plush new hostel they’ll turn it into a shooting den/brothel in no time at all. We can’t even force them to have detox in the UK because of their ‘human rights’ either unless the drugs have driven them so bonkers we can section them under the Mental Health Act.

    c) People with mental health problems, who do need somewhere uncomplicated to live and the proper treatment. However, at one point a lot of these people probably did convince a mental health tribunal they were ‘fit’ to leave psychiatric care (and insisted on doing so) before they turned up on the street. It’s all well and good building them a nice hostel to live in, but how to you keep a, b and any other chancer that wants a free room out. A lot of a’s and b’s (if they had proper treatment for their addictions) could become c’s – of even productive members of society – but in the UK we can’t force them to have this treatment without sectioning them, and we cant section them unless they pose an immediate danger to themselves or others, a drink or drugs problem isn’t enough.

    Maybe London just needs better a mental health capacity and better addictions treatment facilities. I’d hazard a guess that if you build a load of plush new hostels like the one in Raincoaster’s film in London, they’d be full in days no matter how many beds you built.

  16. If your biggest problem is heroin addicts and not crackheads or methheads, count yourself lucky. Junkies tend to lack the energy to become violent.

    Better mental health and rehab facilities are indeed important parts of any solution to homelessness.

    As for drunk Glaswegians: well, how can you tell them from drunk Londoners who’ve simply laid down on the sidewalk for a bit of a nap? I mean, there are the homeless and then there are the pikers.

  17. I actually thought the video on the so-called “End of Homelessness” was a joke. Please tell me that it is… Anyone who lives here and has been to the downtown Eastside recently knows that this issue is far from being resolved. I’m embarrassed that Vancouver is being touted as a “model” city, when it’s actually got quite a bad international reputation for what has become of our inner city. I don’t want to diminish that there are many great organizations down there working themselves to the bone on this issue, but let’s just say it’s a problem that’s far from over.

  18. We’ve got plenty of crackheads too, in my experience a lot of addicts seem to do crack and heroin. We don’t have a meth or PCP problem (thank God) and I’m unsure why to be honest as making meth is cheaper than making crack.

    In all my 29 years I’ve never come across anyone who has taken – or even knows anyone who has taken – PCP in the UK and I don’t know why this is. It just doesn’t exist here. I don’t know why we have no meth problem, I put it down to the people bright enough to realise you just need to freebase speed are bright enough not to become drug dealers in the first place. Nevertheless, there is no market for it in the UK.

    Heroin aren’t always violent (although they can be) but nevertheless they steal, often from shops, and clog up the criminal justice system.

    As for the Glaswegians, a bit of a stereotype I know, but it happens and stereotypes don’t exist for no reason. London attracts rough sleepers from all over the UK, so shouldn’t any kind of real solution involve repatriating them back ‘home’ (which again might fall foul of our human rights laws).

    However, you haven’t answered my scepticism that if we open up lots of nice hostels for the ‘homeless’ chancers will take all the beds. It’s a free bed in London, even in a really smelly room full of bunkbeds and scumbags, that’s worth £300 a month.

  19. This is just like the good’ol day’s eh Raincoaster – early hours of the morning, just me and you, hijacking the debate!

    I’m not against having enough housing. I support the abolition of planning controls in favour of a standardised, tradeable unit of residential planning permission, to be distributed as a citizens dividend to every 25 year old. You own the land but not the view out the window – that’s my view.

    However, there is a natural shortage of land in Central London. Back in summer 2006 I was paying between £250 and £300 a month for one of 8 bunk beds in a ‘youth hostel’ that was really just a cheap doss-house full of foriegn pot-heads in plush Kensington. The town house we were in would have been worth £3 million or more.

    Beds in London (where the work is) have a market value. What you’re suggesting is a new kind of social housing that is distributed to single people, free of charge. How do you stop everyone claiming to be ‘homeless’ just to get some?

  20. We’re overpriced in Vangroover as well, although not to such an extent. Being a benevolent socialist city-state, however, we actually have our homeless people in a database. Cops go up the alleys and ask people if they’ve got anywhere to sleep, enter them into the database with their SIN numbers if they don’t, and often direct people to shelters with openings. It’s true community work, and a far better use of the cops’ time than, say, directing traffic.

    I know several cops, and they’d much rather do that sort of work than run around giving people tickets for jaywalking.

    As it is Vancouver, and we’ve got a longstanding tradition of the Voluntarily Homeless, the desire or otherwise to be housed is a part of the report to the database. Nobody is in favour of forcing people into housing at gunpoint.

    Nobody but the IOC, that is. Don’t get me started on those Olympics Fascists. If you want details, you can check my facebook page at

  21. Please watch MY story unfold and I talk about being Homeless in a Movie

    This storyline is from the Documentary ‘With Glowing Hearts’. It follows April Smith on her journey building AHA Media as the preeminent news source for Vancouver’s DTES – Using Social Media for Social Justice. Along the way April faces many challenges including HOMELESSNESS

    Please stay in touch with me 🙂

  22. April, don’t post your Facebook on a stranger’s website unless you want stalkers.

    And yes, to those who are still figuring it out, this is SATIRE.

  23. Okay, A little late here but this article and video only ‘imagines’ what it would be like if homelessness was eloiminated from Vancouver.

    This is not real but is presented as fact. Very confusing.

  24. Lets hope London follows and becomes homeless free why doesn’t Boris create free hostels for the homeless create a partnership between london development agency the mayor and charities such as crisis and the salvation army

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