Continuing from last week’s post (on the CRD’s anti-binner position), another instance of people with power making life more miserable for people living in poverty is Good Neighbour Agreements (GNAs). GNAs have been around since at least 2007. Service providers—such as Cool Aid’s Next Steps Transitional Shelter on Dowler Place and Rock Bay Landing—have been pushed to enter such agreements by anxious property owners and the city. Today, though, I will look at the GNA Our Place was forced to sign back in 2009 to open an expanded facility.
The GNA signed by Our Place, the city and property owners on the 900-block states that its vision for Pandora Green is that “all neighbours will be welcome and may enjoy comfort and safety.” It then states that the GNA’s goal is to “provide a means to achieve the vision.” Well, if you judge the GNA by the process through which it came into existence then it badly fails to meet its goal. The Pandora Green GNA came about as the result of the city paying a private consultant to get every property owner on the block in a room to decide on how to make them comfortable with Our Place expanding. People accessing Our Place were excluded from this process.
If you judge the GNA by its contents it also badly fails to meet its goal. Property owners and the city did not come up with a single word in the agreement that would help make people who are street-involved feel welcome, comfortable or safe. Instead, the opposite is true. The agreement contractually obligates Our Place to ensure that “law enforcement is called promptly,” a clause that pressures Our Place to police the people who it serves. This is not a part of Our Place’s mandate. In fact, the actual effect of the agreement is to extend policing in to Our Place. So rather than “offer[ing] a sense of belonging to Greater Victoria’s most vulnerable citizens”, Our Place necessarily turns into another surveilled space.
And, it does not end there. The GNA commits signatories to make “modifications to the exterior of their buildings to discourage loitering,” a clause that further shapes the cityscape in the interests of property owners. It also commits Our Place to “promptly remove any graffiti” and to “keep buildings and grounds clean,” which removes scare resources from service provision and dumps them into paying someone a minimum wage to go up and down the block cleaning.
The city and property owners are making people’s lives harder. Exclusion, intensified surveillance, service cuts and privatizing public space is not a recipe for the comfort and safety of street-involved people (or anyone else!). What to do about GNAs should be up to those most affected by them – people who are street-involved. But it stands to reason that ripping them up would be a good place to begin, and perhaps re-writing them in a way that commits property owners to undertake anti-stigma training, to fund storage lockers for binners, traffic calming for cars, and better hours for Our Place.
VIPIRG is currently working with the Committee to End Homelessness on this issue. Please stay tuned! www.vipirg.ca