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Notes and follow up from Community Meeting with VPD

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Hello neighbours,

March was a turbulent month. It began with the heated debate about an Atira development proposal at 420 Hawks which on many levels is out of line with the DTES Local Area Plan. The SRA has allied with the Strathcona BIA, Raycam, Stamps Tenants Council and the Ukrainian Cultural Centre to bring our concerns about this development to the Planning Department.

See notes below.

Later in the month we heard that City Council voted to adjust the definition of Social Housing to ’Secured Market Rental Housing’. This effectively means:

1. The new definition of “social housing” removes support for those most in need.
The new lowest category of rent will require an annual income of up to $36,500 for a studio apartment and $40,000 for a one-bedroom outside the DTES (Source: BC Housing 2015 Housing Income Limits). This moves “social housing” out of reach for anyone working full-time at minimum wage ($22,000 per year).

2. This change benefits developers, not people in need of affordable housing. The threshold for a building to gain huge density bonuses for “social housing” is unreasonably low. Only 30% of residential units are required to meet the too-expensive levels described above. The remaining units are not required to be affordable at all.

3. The promise on page 95 of the DTES LAP, that an additional 3,350 social housing units are to be built outside of the DTES is now irrelevant as those units are no longer required to be affordable to low-income residents. The only area in the city that continues to be responsible for providing housing for low-income residents is ours, the DTES.

March culminated with the horrific attack on a local resident on March 26th, which has left the neighbourhood reeling. Strathcona has come together in big numbers and in the most amazing ways, at a solidarity walk on Friday the 27th and a community meeting on Tuesday the 31st, and with generous support for the survivor and for each other, both emotionally and financially.

The SRA Executive Council has no direct contact with our neighbour who survived the attack but we have been told that she is out of hospital in recovery. The fundraising campaign initiated by neighbours towards her recovery has been incredibly fruitful. You can view or donate to the campaign here: http://www.gofundme.com/q4ccf84

Immediately below this message are the notes from the community meeting with the Vancouver Police Department on Tuesday March 31st, diligently taken by Executive Council member Gordon Roe. It was an emotional night and a lot was said so we hope these manage to convey the content and intensity of the meeting.

At the end of the community meeting, the VPD offered to set up a self-defence/safety class for those who were interested. There are two such workshops scheduled in the area for interested residents:

Saturday, April 11th 1-5 pm Wenlido Workshop at Stretch Yoga with Gaye Ferguson of the Eastside Family Place. Register or read more here: http://stretchvancouver.com/events/#!

Thursday, April 23rd 6-8 pm Women’s Personal Safety Workshop with the VPD at the Strathcona Community Centre. Register at the reception or by calling 604-713-1838. Free.

Another neighbourhood association, CANY in Yaletown, is urgently trying to stop and oppose two developments they feel were approved without the community’s fair input and that will set a dangerous precedence to an illegal planning process and development. They urge us to sign a petition and write the City with our voices. Please visit http://www.newyaletown.ca to read more and sign the petition.

We look forward to seeing everyone at our next meeting on Wednesday, May 6th (7:15 at the Strathcona Community Centre) where we will focus on discussing effective ways to improve the imbalance we seem to be experiencing in our neighbourhood, both on a safety and planning level. It is time to explore how these two issues may be connected and what we as residents can do to impact a change for the better.

Note from Special Community Safety Meeting March 31, 2015 7PM
Strathcona School Auditorium

Over 200 in the audience, very big showing from the community as well as from the VPD. I counted 10 uniformed officers, another 10 support staff including a community psychologist and representatives of the Chinatown Community Police office. There were likely more I didn’t see or count. Very impressive.

Initial call to order and intro by Superintendent Michelle Davey, VPD North Command, who then turned it over to Elana Zysblat, SRA Chair.

Elana thanked everyone for being here and emphasized that it showed the strength of the community. She asked the media present not to interfere with this community meeting by recording or filming what was said, nor to use this meeting for their own question and answer. The audience applauded that sentiment. Elana then gave an overview of how this meeting came to be called, and turned it back to Superintendent Michelle Davey, who reinforced the request to media representatives and stated that police officers would be available to both residents and the media afterward to answer questions about what they heard this evening

Superintendent Michelle Davey went on to compliment the community for the way it had come together for each other and for the victim of the assault. She emphasized that this event was a rare event in the City, which makes it particularly traumatic. Violent crime has declined for years and a large part of that is the strength of the community and its work with the police.

She introduced Inspector Cita Airth of the Special Investigation Section who would be presenting what is known about the case. She also acknowledged Inspector Howard Chow who is in charge of Sector 2; Constable Graham Edmonds, current community police officer and his predecessor, Constable Ali Gailus; Linda Thorp of VPD Victim Services Unit, Karen Liang of Chinatown Community Police office, and Dr. Randy Mackoff who works frequently with the VPD as a community psychologist. She said that all of these people will be available to answer questions afterward.

Insp. Airth described that the integrity of the investigation and the privacy of the victim means that much of what the Section is doing can't be shared. Over 20 people are working this case, and the investigation of this and possibly related cases is ongoing. Since the suspect is from Ontario, there is an investigation of the suspect's activities there and along his route here. In addition they have collected interviews and CCTV from private and public sources in the area. To date there have been 7 charges laid in this case. The Section continues to work with the victim and the neighborhood, and with the public prosecutors.

Dr Randy Mackoff did a presentation on ways to cope with difficulties some may be having in dealing with this incident. Sexual assault is an abuse of power, a violent act which makes the victim feels silent and powerless. It also affects those who know of the assault. The community's strong and public reaction has shown that it is not silent and powerless. This is good. Excessive concerns can arise from reactions to this event. The important thing is not to dwell on the event and what you may feel about it, and to seek help if you do find yourself dwelling on it or if your emotions do not stabilize. If you know someone who is reacting this way, pay attention to them and make yourself available to help or listen.

Superintendent Michelle Davey then opened the floor to questions.
Question: What is happening with charges? Answer: he is in custody, and he will appear in court on Thursday
Question: Will he be released after that? Answer: that is always a possibility, but the VPD will oppose that. If it happens, the VPD will be keeping a close eye on him.
Question: Why was he not charged with attempted murder. Answer: insufficient evidence at this time.
Question: Are people like this tracked upon release? Answer: risk assessments are made and violent offenders likely to re-offend are watched very (very) closely.
Question: Are there warrants for him in other jurisdictions? Answer: most warrants are area warrants (i.e., restricted to a certain area or city) , so on minor charges he would be out of that jurisdiction and would be tried here. For more serious Canada-wide warrants, he could possibly be returned to that location.
Question: How much do you tell children about this and how do you talk about it? Answer: depending on the age and comprehension-level of the child, you tell them what they can comprehend. It is essential to provide reassurance and safety in what you tell them and how, so they feel that this is something that they don’t need to personally fear.
Question: Where did the suspect live, was he living in our community? Answer: unknown at this time.
Question: Is there a link between the park and the place where the assault took place? Answer: no known association.
Question: Relating to parks, Strathcona Park in particular is huge and poorly lit, is there any chance of improved visibility and patrolling in the area? Answer: lighting is Parks Board concern. The police can only support the community's need for better lighting if the community pursues it with the Park’s Board.
Question: Are there more people with mental health and addictions problems coming to the area or on the streets these days? Answer: Stathcona is close to the DES and to large numbers of supportive housing and social service agencies. The VPD has already increased its patrolling in this neighborhood and have a large number of staff monitoring and working with people who have social difficulties. There have been arrests made on most of the violent incidents that have occurred in the neighborhood.
Question: There are rumors the person who committed the assault had approached services for help and was rejected because they were 'acting crazy. Answer: Though she can't confirm this, they are aware of this rumor and have been following up on it as part of the investigation.
Question: If this was the case, will there be follow-up with the services? Answer: Definitely, if this turns out to be true, those staff and those services will be directly approached to improve their responses
Question: What are our rights in responding to a home invasion of this sort? Answer: You have the right to defend yourself from violence and assault. This will vary according to what means and skills you have, bearing in mind that in most situations you want to de-escalate not escalate the confrontation..
Question: What about self-defense in the community? Answer: Again, you have the right to defend yourself, and what you do depends on your need for and experience with self-defense. Again, if you choose to carry a weapon such as pepper spray, you must be aware that this can be taken away and be used against you.
Question: What safety advice to children who want some independence? Answer: start early and train them in what they should do in a variety of circumstances, ensuring they are both confident and cautious, and that they always maintain situational awareness, always have a plan to act on.
Question: A resident described a case where a number of houses were targeted by porch thieves and the non-emergency operator was dismissive. Answer: The VPD contracts this out to E-Comm so they do like to hear about the efficiency of the services. Making the call is important because the VPD pays attention to the number and type of calls in planning responses.
This resulted in a general discussion on the ineffectiveness of privatized E-Comm service and how poorly they respond to community reports. Several residents stated that their efforts to report had been ignored or that they had been kept endlessly on line while the operator determined if this was worth their while.
Question: A resident asked whether the community can access the stats on reporting and responses, in order to gauge whether E-Comm’s indifference is making reporting less common. Answer: The VPD is working to get more timely stats up on its website with the same software that the constables use, but at the moment there is only monthly aggregate stats on the VPD website.
Question: Is there anything else we can do besides E-Comm for reports? Answer: Unfortunately E-Comm is VPD's primary avenue for public reporting. There is also an online form on VPD’s website which can at least provide stats on incidents and reporting on E-Comm problems.
Superintendent Michelle Davey stated that she was surprised and concerned by the problems reported with E-Comm and would be following them up
Question: When we will hear the outcome of your discussions with E-Comm? Answer: I will be taking your concerns to E-Comm and I will communicate the results to Elana in the next few weeks.
Question: Could we reinstall more phone booths/pay phones to provide options? Answer: as an alternative the VPD and other agencies are using old cell phones as 911 only phones and re-distributing them. Pay phones are difficult to install and maintain, and are not a realistic option.
Question: Is there anything available in terms of self-defense and community watch programs available? Answer: Elana took this question, and stated that this was the focus of last month’s SRA meeting. While there are a number of avenues we can pursue. Finding out what resources are available, working closely with the police and paying attention to/knowing our neighbors is our best bet. We can organize ourselves to make the best use of available resources.
Question: What is the strategy if someone who comes to the door? Answer: ensuring that the door remains locked, that everyone knows what the rules are about answering the door and how to deal with situations that can happen, and being very cautious about anyone and their statements of authority/authenticity. Thinking about, establishing and rehearsing standard responses is vital, particularly with children.
Question: A suggestion for the SRA to have workshops and speakers on these matters. Answer: Elana replied this why the SRA is engaged in this event, in order to find out what the community needs in terms of these potential services.
Question: Not really a question but more a comment on how phones and music players can interfere with situational awareness and make people more vulnerable in public, and a request (reinforced by the police) for more awareness of what's going on around you when you are texting or listening to music.
Question: Has there been an increase in random violent incidents in the area, more people on the street. Answer: there has not been any statistical increase in violence but there are areas and situations which are problems.
Question: Loud parties in McLean Park are a particular problem. Answer: Const Edmonds will speak to you about this but please remember that the Parks Board has to work with the police and community, it’s not something that we can do on our own.
Question: I spoke to E-Comm and waited almost two hours for a response to someone who was melting down in the street. How can we put pressure to get more resources for people in crisis?
Answer: This is a large topic and involves a large number of agencies and levels of gov't. Petitions from the community to the gov't which is responsible for mental illness are a good place to start. This would be something that SRA could also solicit reports complaining specifically about E-Comm and other services deficiencies- and forward these to the VPD for action.

Inspector Aitrth summed up the meeting and drew the public presentation part of the meeting to a close. She stated that problems with E-Comm, lack of patrolling in the neighborhood, and not being heard seem to be the main concerns. We have a good community organization, and community members which wants to make changes. It is important that we not stop calling E-Comm and not reporting either to police or the SRA, because that information results directly in changes to services. Take the file number and email Const. Edmunds with it, he'll check into the results of that call. If we call E-Comm and log the call and the results personally and with the SRA, we can generate the momentum for better services. Get and keep and follow up on every call. Be a squeaky wheel.

Superintendent Michelle Davey announced that the VPD will be bringing the Safety Fair to the Strathcona School in the next two weeks

Elana wrapped it up by thanking the police for taking the time to be here and providing so much information and prompt support to the community. She reminded everyone that the police are only the most visible of the involved agencies, and we should remembering that there are a number of other agencies, as well as the City and the Province, which are also responsible for the problems we face. The SRA will take the information from this meeting and will try to take a leading role in meeting of the community needs identified this evening.

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Summary of concerns about 420 Hawks proposed development expressed by SRA, Strathcona BIA, Raycam, Stamps Tenants Council and Ukrainian Cultural Centre:

SUMMARY OF CONCERNS:

  1. The proposed housing is out of scale, does not fit into the local area, and contravenes the DTES Plan. It should not be allowed in its present form in this location.
  2. A full impact assessment should be undertaken before housing vulnerable women and children in the DTES – for the families themselves and for those who live in the surrounding area.
  3. The DTES Local Area Plan should be adhered to as specified unless there are very strong reasons to vary from its prescriptions, in which case a much broader community process should be followed to provide the rationale and seek community input.
  4. Areas designated for business and industrial uses should be strictly required to maintain those uses, at least at ground level.
  5. Any organization proposing social or SRO housing should be required to develop a proposed good-neighbour agreement for consideration and community approval to be included as part of any zoning application. Such as agreement should be strictly adhered to with strong penalties for non-compliance.

Here is a link to the proposed development:

http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/rezoning/applications/420hawksave/index.htm

I hope we continue to work together in big numbers and gestures. See you all at the next SRA meeting on Wednesday, May 6th. We will send out another newsletter prior to with an agenda.

SRA Executive Council- Elana, Rick, Chris, Gord and Roberta

Addendum: Frustrated with 9-1-1 service? read: http://strathcona-residents.org/blog/frustrated-911-service