A coalition of representatives from the Defund 604 Network, Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) say they interviewed more than 700 people in-person and online between May 1 and Sept. 30.
Respondents included what the coalition described as people “under-served, over-policed and purposefully marginalized,” with the Downtown Eastside being a focal point of the survey.
Vince Tao of VANDU said many of the respondents are excluded from the city’s democratic planning process and their voices are not being heard by decision-makers.
“Folks in the Downtown Eastside are trying to survive every day, our members are constantly surveilled and harassed by the police — they do not have the time, nor a lot of them have the capacity, to leave the places that they call home to go to city hall, or right here at this press conference,” Tao said Monday from outside the VPD’s Cambie Street precinct.
The survey found that 86 per cent of respondents wanted 50 per cent of the VPD’s budget redirected to a variety of programs and policies that benefit the well-being of people. That result culminated in several recommendations, including a need for a peer-led emergency mental health service.
The other recommendations were:
- More accessible non-market housing and an end to the displacement of “houseless people.”
- Create peer-led indoor sex worker spaces.
- Widespread access to a safe drug supply and allow compassion clubs for drug users.
- Return land to Indigenous peoples and set up a traditional healing centre at CRAB park
- Participatory budgeting processes.
“The City of Vancouver must work with the most impacted community members to build a real community safety framework,” said Laurel Albina of the Defund 604 Network at the news conference.
“They need to prioritize community programs, social services, housing programs, mental health outreach teams, emergency response teams, and all of this needs to be grounded in peer-led models built by and for affected community members.”
Meenakshi Mannoe of Pivot Legal Society said she planned to email the survey to the police board in advance of its meeting this Thursday, when it is expected to approve the VPD’s 2022 budget before it gets sent on to city council in December for a final decision.
“We recognize — and even the police themselves recognize — that they are ill-equipped, inadequately resourced and fundamentally the inappropriate response to these kinds of issues,” Mannoe said.
The VPD’s proposed budget for 2022 is expected to be posted to the police board’s website Tuesday.
In December 2020, the majority of council voted to approve a 2021 police budget of $316 million, about $766,000 more than the 2020 budget but $5.6 million less — total figure was $5,689,974 — than the VPD requested for this year’s budget.
The police board has since appealed the decision to Wayne Rideout, B.C.’s director of police services. Rideout’s review is focusing “on the impacts of the alleged budget shortfall on service delivery and adequate and effective policing,” according to an emailed statement from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
The review is expected to be completed by the end of January. That means the review will not be a factor when city council decides this December on the city’s overall budget for 2022, the biggest portion of which is dedicated to the police department.
At the same time, the VPD has made it known several times this year that it is projecting a deficit for the first time in 16 years, with the most recent report before the police board saying it could reach more than $7 million.