UPDATED: Street Community Endorses Better Neighbour Agreement
October 11th, 2013 – Lekwungen Territory (Victoria, B.C)
People who access services at Our Place endorsed a Better Neighbour Agreement for Pandora Green today. The endorsement came at the end of a community consultation conducted by the Committee to End Homelessness and the Radical Health Alliance. Among other measures, the street community is calling for a “bubble zone” around Our Place, which would prevent police from entering Our Place unless called, anti-stigma training for signatories to the existing Good Neighbour Agreement (GNA), and the implementation of traffic calming measures to Pandora Avenue.
Organizers had previously interviewed over 50 people on measures that could be taken to create a more welcoming, comfortable and safe neighbourhood, which is the vision laid out in the existing Pandora Green GNA. Not surprisingly, none of the recommendations made by people who access services at Our Place are currently enshrined in the GNA. Instead, the existing agreement increases police presence on the block, and has led to modifications to buildings and the street scape to make the neighbourhood less inviting for people who are already marginalized.
“Today’s endorsement completes the work that the City, and other stakeholders in the GNA, should have done a long time ago,” said Alison Acker, a member of the Committee to End Homelessness. She continued, “The existing Pandora Green GNA lists the street community as a stakeholder, but none of the commitments made in the agreement make for a more welcome, comfortable or safe neighbourhood for people who are marginalized. On the contrary, it further marginalizes and stigmatizes people who access services at Our Place.”
Seb Bonet, a member of the Radical Health Alliance, added “The City, police and property owners need to either take their vision seriously and adopt the Better Neighbourhood Agreement or simply be honest that the GNA, as it is written, exists to entrench privilege at the expense of people who lack it.”
UPDATED: RHA & Committee to End Homelessness Put Forward “Better Neighbour Agreements”1) “Nothing about us without us” – people who access our place should have a voice in service design 2) Bubble Zone – no police within 100 feet of our place 3) Anti-Stigma/Oppression training for all BNA signatories 4) Community-based responses to health crises 5) Safer place for people who use drugs 6) Reinstall park benches and the right to sit and kneel 7) Access to binner storage 8) Traffic calming measures – i.e. crosswalks and speedbumps 9) Workers should be considered stakeholders in the agreement
UPDATED: Good Neighbour Agreements
Good For Who? – Pandora Green Good Neighbour Agreement Survey Results
Introduction – This report presents results from a grassroots research process initiated by the Committee to End Homelessness and the Radical Health Alliance about the Pandora Green Good Neighbour Agreement. The project arose as a community-based response to the ongoing concerns about safety raised by people who access services on the 900-block of Pandora Avenue. These are people who are named as stakeholders in the Good Neighbour Agreement (GNA), but who have nonetheless been excluded from shaping its vision, goals, principles and commitments.
This project is based on an approach to understanding and responding to poverty that puts the needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable residents of Victoria at the centre of processes and decisions about poverty issues. In other words, it attempts to respect the democratic principle that those most affected by decisions should have the greatest say in their outcome.
Background – In 2007, the City of Victoria paid a private consultant, City Spaces, to bring property and business owners on the block together to agree on conditions for the expansion of Our Place. The meetings ultimately resulted in the City committing $510,000 to “beautify” the 900-block, a process that did not include any consultation with people who were street-involved and included the City amending the Streets and Traffic Bylaw to enable it to evict people who were tenting on the Green. The meetings also resulted in the City facilitating the creation of a Good Neighbour Agreement for Pandora Green. This agreement was signed into existence on July 20th of 2009, and became one of the means by which councillors justified the beautification project. The Good Neighbour Agreement has a vision that all neighbours, including the ‘street community’, “will be welcome and may enjoy comfort and safety.” The agreement’s goal is to be the “means for all neighbours to work effectively together to achieve the vision.” Furthermore, the agreement lists among its principles that stakeholders “be respectful of the street community and engage them in resolving issues.”
Although this project revolves around the Pandora Green GNA, GNAs are in place at several other locations around Victoria. GNAs are also enshrined in the City’s Downtown Core Area Plan as the means to “support and encourage service providers who are developing new facilities oriented to the street community.” The Vancouver Island Health Authority also includes the development of Good Neighbour Agreements as part of its policy to develop harm reduction services.
What We Did – In consultation with people who identify as currently or formerly homeless, a five-question survey was put together and administered to 48 people on February 15th, 2013 over a food serving on the boulevard in front of Our Place. The survey assesses whether people who access services on the 900-block have heard about the Good Neighbour Agreement, and whether the vision that the 900-block be a place of comfort, safety and welcome for them has been enacted. The survey also prompts respondents to identify what issues compromise the vision for them and asks them to put forward recommendations for how to address these issues.
What We Found – The overwhelming majority of respondents experience feeling unwelcome, uncomfortable or un-safe on the 900-block. For these respondents, policing, criminalization of poverty, and stigma were cited as the primary drivers of this experience. Although the Victoria Police Department is a signatory to the GNA its presence on the 900-block is causing distress for many who access services on the 900-block. 18 statements were made citing police presence and visibility as a general factor in feeling unsafe, while a further three stressed that police being on the grounds at Our Place was a problem.
The five statements concerned with the criminalization of poverty were around the presence of security cameras, security guards and bylaws. Stigma was also cited as a factor producing an unwelcome environment in eight cases. One respondent explained, “people who come to the 900-block and look at people on the street like they are scary, they roll their eyes…I try to smile at them; I wish they would smile back.”
Recommendations – The current GNA commits its signatories to “keep buildings and grounds clean”; to “promptly make repairs…and remove graffiti”; to “make necessary modifications to the exterior of buildings to discourage loitering and camping”; and, to “promptly call law enforcement”. Of the 84 recommendations made by survey respondents only one intersected with the commitments listed above. One respondent asked that police form a part of creating safe conditions on the block, but this respondent qualified support for police by stating that they “actually protect women”.
Recommendations made by respondents run in a contrary direction to the current GNA commitments. 22 recommendations were made around changing the presence of police on the 900-block. There were fourteen calls for reduced police presence and harassment, four for increased sensitivity training for police, and three for reducing police funding.
Nine statements indicated that increasing services for people who consume drugs would make the 900-block a more welcome and safe place. This highlights the continuing failure of the Vancouver Island Health Authority to provide accessible, peer-designed safe consumption services in Victoria despite the proven clinical efficacy and need for them.
People also cited the need for increased housing, for input from people who access services when designing the GNA, and for measures to be taken to reduce stigma. In addition, many practical suggestions were made, from reinstalling park benches, to establishing better access to storage lockers, creating binner storage, and making quiet spaces for people to rest.
What Needs To Happen – The voices in this report speak clearly two things. First, people who access services were not involved in the design of the existing GNA. None of the concerns cited are addressed in the GNA; rather, the GNA instigates many of them.
Second, signatories to the GNA, including the City of Victoria, need to be held accountable to their own vision, goal and principles. A new process must be undertaken to re-draft a GNA that can meaningfully achieve its laudable vision. Until this occurs, GNAs cannot be considered legitimate and no new GNAs should be signed.
Our first project is to expose how Good Neighbor Agreements contribute to marginalization and creation of the “Hard to Reach.”
On February 22nd, members of the Radical Health Alliance assisted the Committee to End Homelessness in canvassing street-involved residents of 900-block Pandora about their experiences in the neighbourhood, and whether the GNA is responding to their needs as residents. Stay tuned for recommendations coming out of this, to ensure the GNA is meeting the needs of everyone who uses this space.