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Randy Pshebylo

A 33rd Street BID?

A great idea for Mayfair and Caswell Hill.  Story is by Charles Hamilton of The StarPhoenix.

When Nicola Tabb looks out the front door of her vintage clothing shop on 33rd Street, she sees a community ripe with potential.

This strip is home to one of Saskatoon’s most acclaimed bakeries, a handful of antique shops, a tattoo parlour, a hair salon and hardware stores.

While prostitution and drug use are still relatively common sights in the area, these few blocks on Saskatoon’s west side have all the makings, she said, of a place on its way to becoming this city’s up-and-coming neighbourhood.

“I get people coming in all the time saying, ‘Thank you for opening on 33rd. I love to support my local business.’ I’m not sure if I would have got that anywhere else in the city,” she said.

Tabb lives in Caswell Hill just a few blocks away from where she opened her store, Better Off Duds, eight months ago. Since then, she said, the community has embraced her and now she is just one of a number of local entrepreneurs keen on the idea of starting a business improvement district (BID) for 33rd Street.

Similar BIDs are already operating in the Broadway, downtown, Sutherland and Riversdale neighbourhoods. The idea of a BID, according to supporters, is to get community and business people actively engaged in development decisions affecting the neighbourhoods.

“You look at what 20th Street was 10 years ago even, and since the inception and development of the BID look at what happened to the neighbourhood. It’s a trendy, kitschy place now,” said Shannon Vinish, a former business owner who was instrumental in the area’s first attempt at forming a BID back in 2004.

BIDs operate in more than 1,400 business areas across North America. The organizations are funded primarily by a levy on business owner’s property taxes and work on lobbying different levels of government for things such as increased policing, street level improvements and zoning bylaws.

“It’s just a natural progression of an area turning in on itself and saying, ‘What happened, how did this happen and how do we fix it,’ ” said Randy Pshebylo, the executive director of the Riversdale BID, which has been active since 1990.

Pshebylo said BIDs can be an effective way of giving business members a voice in shaping the landscape of their community. His BID, for example, lobbied successfully for a limit on the number of pawn shops on 20th Street.

I am actually excited about this.  The Hudson Bay Park/Mayfair/Kelsey Woodlawn Community Association is revitalized, the Local Area Plan starts Thursday, and now a BID for 33rd Street?  These are all really good things happening in the area.

Staying the Course in Ward 2

It’s hard to give opinions on other ward races.  I have several friends on campaigns who are either running or helping run them and you end up picking sides, even between people you respect so I tend to stay out of them.  I have a passionate connection with Ward 2 since 2006 when I found myself working in a homeless shelter in the ward and that has stayed with me as I have moved on. 

I had known of Pat Lorje going back to her time on council in the 1980s and later as a NDP MLA when she was elected in 1993.  I wasn’t a fan because as long time readers of this blog know, I am amongst the last two remaining defenders of the Grant Devine administration (okay, I may be the last remaining one) and I was occasionally (and unsuccessfully) campaigning for her opponent.  Later I unengaged from politics and Lorje became a cabinet minister (those aren’t really connected).

When I found myself working at a shelter in Ward 2 and working with poverty and homelessness issues, Coun. Lorje and Randy Pshebylo made some statements questioning the concentration of services in Riversdale.  I emailed Lorje and asked to meet with our management team and we had an excellent exchange of ideas between her, Pshebylo and other managers.  While Lorje and I disagreed on the issue, her viewpoint was well thought out and backed up with some pretty interesting academic policy discussions about concentrations of service (in Ottawa and Cinncinnati) and what it does to neighbourhood.  It set a pattern even when I see Lorje (and Pshebylo) today.  We may not always agree but we are always looking for ideas to solve and improve poverty and homeless issues.  

The first time that I worked closely with Coun. Lorje was on the opening and rezoning of Mumford House.  It was another service in Pleasant Hill but Lorje saw the big picture on the project and knew that we needed a shelter for women and children in Saskatoon.  She was an effective advocate for the community but also with us and served as an effective “power broker” between us as a service provider and the community association.  It was a project that would have been delayed without community support and her support was crucial in getting it open in a timely matter.  It’s always hard to think what it would have been like without Lorje’s support but I have seen home based child care rezoning efforts have more difficult time than what we had.

As an outsider, I enjoyed watching the politics of the wind turbine and the new development in Montgomery.  Lorje has been a passionate defender of Montgomery and while I didn’t agree with her stance (especially on the wind turbine), she did an excellent job of representing their interests both publicly and to me privately.  She has also been an advocate for things in Council that she feels are right for citizens across the city, especially for those that are marginalized.

Finally as someone that loves the culture of Riversdale, I love the changes that have happened with the revitalization of the neighbourhood as a result of the efforts of the Riversdale BID, entrepreneurs, and the City of Saskatoon’s investment; investment that Lorje champions for at every opportunity.

Ward 2 can’t be an easy ward to represent with perhaps the largest income gap between neighbourhoods in Saskatoon but Lorje has done a good job over the last six years. While I can’t speak for the ward, I can speak for the work that Lorje has done and I think she has done an excellent job for both Ward 2 and for all of Saskatoon.  I can’t take a lawn sign but I’ll make my thoughts known here.  Pat Lorje should be re-elected on October 24th.

Concentration of Poverty in Riversdale

This is the second post in a series on poverty in the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon.  You can find the first post here.

A lot of you have asking why my blog series on Riversdale stopped.  The quick answer is that I found a question that I had no answer to.  Of course the long answer is that I started writing about an article that Dave Hutton wrote back in May.  As I started to write about it, I got to a point where i was going to talk about the concentration of poverty in Riversdale (and to a lesser degree, the other core neighbourhoods in Saskatoon).  As I was writing, I remembered hearing Leonard Sweet talk about growing up in poverty in West Virginia.  While I am sure all of us idealize parts of our childhood, he was describing both poverty and a strong sense of community that existed in his youth and even now while West Virginia ranks at the bottom of most indicators of economic strength and standard of living it also have very low crime rates, an issue that has defined Saskatoon’s inner city for a number of years.

So when Councilor Lorje and Randy Pshebylo comment on the concentration of poverty in Saskatoon, it isn’t just a lack of money that is the issue.

"The issue is not just poverty," she said. "It’s the concentration of poverty."

Lorje is backed on the issue by the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District. Randy Pshebylo says the burden of helping the homeless and drug-addicted needs to be shared by other neighbourhoods.

The concentration of any one thing — be it bars and pubs, pawn shops, retail stores, restaurants or social organizations — diminishes the strength of any neighbourhood, Pshebylo said.

Missions and soup kitchens are better suited for the avenues adjacent to 20th Street than the main business strip, he said.

"We just want an equitable neighbourhood," he said. "You don’t put your sink in your living room."

This interactive map below shows the main social service agencies in Saskatoon.  It isn’t totally accurate as it is building and not agency based (the Family Service Village in Kinsmen Park holds numerous agencies in one place and I chose to include just the YWCA and Crisis Intervention service on the map to give a wider perspective).

As I plotted out the graph, I didn’t include longer term housing like Saskatoon Housing Authority and Quint Development Corporation (which offers below market rent and I would argue don’t serve a homeless or transient population) or agencies that I knew about but when I Googled their name, I wasn’t easily able to determine the address (which is true of shelters catering to women and youth) which means that they aren’t publically known or want to keep a low profile.  I also left out low income suites targeted towards seniors.  In the end, while some of these agencies are spread over the city, others are in the city core so I think the ratio remains similar.

Here is the color guide.

  • Red: Emergency and transitional housing locations
  • Yellow: Support agencies that provide supports to people in the communities
  • Blue: Food security
  • Purple: Drop In Centres

A quick glance at the map makes it obvious that there is a concentration of lower income services in the Riversdale/Pleasant Hill area.  I was shown another map that showed all of the non-profits that are in Riversdale but that also included many of the local churches.  I am going to leave those out of the conversation because some of them have been there for a long time and not all of them are engaged in any ministry or services to the poor (which is a different post in itself).  No matter which way you look at it, there are a lot of sinks in the living room.  The question is why.

Now it does make sense that there would be a lot of services to the poor in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill as they are the two poorest neighbourhoods in the city and the neighbourhoods around on each side of them (Caswell Hill and King George) also have a concentration of poverty. 

Saskatoon realtor Norm Fisher’s website provides an excellent visual breakdown of the economics of Pleasant Hill and Riversdale. (charts used with permission)

Take a quick look at Riversdale’s income breakdown.

Riversdale's income breakdown

Of the 306 households making under $15,000/year, 140 households are making under $10,000 year.  See full neighbourhood profile here.

Head further west on 20th Street and check out Pleasant Hill’s income breakdown

Pleasant Hill's income breakdown

Of the 863 households trying to get by on under $15,000, 450 households are making less than $10,000 year.  See full neighborhood profile here.

South of Riversdale is King George.  One of Saskatoon’s oldest neighbourhoods.

King George's income breakdown

Of the 153 households making under $15,000 per year, 65 of those households are making under $10,000 per year.  You can see the neighbourhood profile here.

Heading even further west you have Meadowgreen.  While it doesn’t have the commercial connection to 20th Street that Pleasant Hill and Riversdale does, it does have a high concentration of poverty.

meadowgreen-income

Of the 407 households with an income of under $15,000, 125 of them are bringing in under $10,000.  Again, here is the full neighbourhood profile.

I was shocked a little by Caswell Hill’s income breakdown. 

Caswell Hill's income breakdown

I spend a lot of time walking through Caswell Hill and the amount of low income households caught me off guard.  Especially considering that there are 125 households making under $10,000 a year.  Even a neighbourhood with a high concentration of homes being renovated, fixed up, and improved, there is a significant concentration of poverty.

In the end you have 2133 households trying to love on under $15,000 a year and another 1662 households trying to get by under $30,000 a year in those four neighbourhoods.  Of those families, a staggering 905 of them are trying to get by on under $10,000 per year (140 households in Riversdale, 450 households in Pleasant Hill, 65 households in King George, 125 households in Caswell Hill). 

Let’s put this another way.

  $ income/year % less than $15,000/year
City of Saskatoon 65,487 5.9%
Core neighbourhoods 35,003 13.3%
Caswell Hill 41,454 11.2%
King George 36,805 8.8%
Pleasant Hill 25,776 18.3%
Riversdale 29,441 14.3%
Westmount 34,654 11.4%

Not only is there a concentration of poverty in the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon, the underlying causes are hard to overcome.  The vast majority of residents in the five listed neighbourhoods do not have a high school diploma or GED.  Those that are employed are working in retail jobs which often do not feature stable hours and/or a liveable wage.   For those who are not working, they are trying to get by on one of the two main Social Services programs, (through either SAP or TEA). 

Rental vs. Ownership
  % Rental % Owned
City of Saskatoon 38 62
Core Neighbourhoods 49 51
Caswell 42 58
King George 33 67
Pleasant Hill 75 25
Riversdale 58 42
Westmount 38 62

If you have a highly educated and mobile workforce, high rental rates can be quite useful, especially in a changing economy (you can move to where the jobs are).  The problem is that the high rental numbers in the core neighbourhoods are combined with a population with a very poor education.

City of Saskatoon 6.0
Core Neighbourhoods 13.2
Caswell 4.6
King George 9.2
Pleasant Hill 18.4
Riversdale 21.0
Westmount 13.0

Take a look at the data… you have low income, low education, low rate of home ownership all in the same neighbourhoods.  Along with it you will see higher rates of violence and crime, despite increased police efforts at curbing it.

Of course does the concentration of services in Riversdale help or hurt the neighbourhood?  You need to separate the business of 20th Street from the equation first.  Does having a business district in the middle of the second poorest neighbourhood hurt things. Toss in the fact that in 2007 StatsCan found that 1/2 of all of the violent crime in Saskatoon (which was Canada’s second most violent city in 2009) was in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill, it explains why one study in Saskatoon found people felt safer on Broadway Avenue at night than they did on 20th Street during the day.  This is shocking.  Riverdale and Pleasant Hill had 300 crime reports per 1000 residents (second only to the neighbourhoods around Confederation Park)

2007 crime rate in Saskatoon

Freakonomics A quick look at the map would show a link between poverty and crime but for those of you who want to study it further, Harvard economics professor Steven Levitt (and co-author of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics) wrote on the changing link between poverty and crime back in 1999 for the New York Federal Reserve Bank.  As he summarizes his findings of previous research.

In summary, much but not all of the existing empirical evidence is consistent with the conclusion that poverty and income inequality are associated with higher crime rates.

This would coincide with what we see in Saskatoon.  The main point of Levitt’s research is that as income gaps widened, the poor went from robbing those wealthier to those who are also poor.  In other words, the rich in Saskatoon are more likely to be able to afford SaskTel SecurTek (with credit checks being demanded by SecurTek and others, it actually makes it very difficult for low income residents to get the same protection as their wealthier neighbours.  We may not have two tier healthcare, we do have two tier Crown Corporations).  This happens for a lot of reasons that can be linked to the rise of crack cocaine and Reagan’s tough on crime policies (Traditional petty criminals were locked up for longer sentences giving drug dealer a new national distribution network).  Once people realized the money that they could make selling drugs to the masses, it spread across the continent.  Drugs like cocaine used to be for the rich, now with crack out there, drugs became a vice of the poor.  The amount of times I see a dial-a-dope run while at work late shows the depth of the problem.

This matters why?  Lower incomes criminals used to head across the river to the east side to rob people (higher income criminals went to work for Wall Street).  Which more or less spread crime over an urban area.  A combination of technology and wealthy families moving further and further away from the city core turned places like Riversdale, Pleasant Hill and 20th Street into high crime areas.  Wendy and I have experienced this in Mayfair.  We have just seen a lot of property crime on our block… everything from three steering columns being destroyed as people tried to steal our cars to the accompanying smashed windows, to our low voltage landscape lights and Christmas lights being stolen.  Now damage to my car or Christmas lights is one thing.  That is frustrating, annoying, and with a $800 bill even maddening.  Yet it’s nothing compared to how one would feel if someone close to you was violently hurt.

Here is a four month snapshot of assaults in Saskatoon.  These just aren’t minor assaults either but assaults causing bodily harm, aggravated assaults, and assaults with a weapon.

Map of 2010 assaults in Saskatoon

According to police it isn’t that bad.

“If people are suggesting that crime is spiralling out of control over the last five years, the numbers don’t support that,” said Det. Staff Sgt. Jean-Marc Voisard, who heads the personal violence section.

But after 31 years with the Saskatoon police, Voisard has noticed that assaults have become more vicious. Injuries are more serious and knives are more common now, he said.

“When I started, there were stabbings, but not to the extent we see today,” Voisard said.

“Society has become more violent. People are quicker to resort to violence to settle a dispute, and that applies to bar fights just as much as a family fighting in the living room.”

The concentration of crime in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill confirms what Stats Canada is saying and makes it even harder for businesses in Riversdale.  This matters because the perception of crime is more important then the crime rate itself.  Back in the early 80s my friends and I used to as ten year olds take the nearest C-Train station downtown to check out the Glenbow Museum on any given Saturday.  I used to catch a bus by myself that would take kids to Pask-a-poo each Saturday and ski all day supervised.  Now when Mark walks the two short blocks to Safeway from our place, even during the early evening, Wendy’s co-workers show incredible concern that he walked two short blocks.  It doesn’t matter that statistically it was more dangerous growing up in Calgary, the perception is that is more dangerous for us now.  Fear is a powerful motivator.

Not only do you have the fear of crime in the city core, there are several well known links between poverty and mental health.  As the Ontario Mental Health Association puts it.

People with serious mental illness face many barriers over their lifetime, including stigma and discrimination, which may prevent them from securing adequate education and employment. Experiencing a mental illness can seriously interrupt a person’s education or career path and result in diminished opportunities for employment. A lack of secure employment, in turn, affects one’s ability to earn an adequate income. As a result, people may eventually drift into poverty.

Moreover, individuals with serious mental illness are frequently unable to access community services and supports due to stigma, gaps in service and/or challenges in system navigation. Lack of sufficient primary health care and community mental health services, shortages of affordable housing, and inadequate income support further alienate them from life in the community. Exclusion from these social and economic supports results in social isolation, significantly increasing their risk of chronic poverty.

Individuals with work-limiting disabilities are nearly three times as likely to be poor and four times as likely to be in receipt of social assistance as individuals without a disability.

The stigma of people with mental disabilities is incredible.  Many well meaning people have asked me, “How do you work with those people?”  While listening to the radio a couple of weeks ago I listened to one radio host complain about people who were homeless and had mental people out on the same Saskatoon streets as he was.  The suggestion was that they stay inside.  Many people with mental health and addiction issues are living downtown are in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill and that stigma follows them and of course impacts shop owners on 20th.  This is at the core of the creation of suburbia and bedroom communities (although in Saskatchewan I think it has a lot to do with people wanting to connect to rural roots).

If you are a shop owner on Riversdale, you have big time problem.  You are surrounded by some of poorest neighbourhoods in Canada which means that your ability to make money off of local consumers is limited.  You are in one of the highest crime areas of Canada which means that you have to rely heavily on attracting customers to come down and spend money on 20th Street and those consumers don’t feel safe. Even the Little Chief Police Station that was intended to make Riversdale safer is a quiet reminder that by it’s very presence, Riversdale isn’t always a safe place to be. 

In response to the poverty, mental health and addiction issues and crime, it makes sense that several NGO’s moved into Riversdale to help people cope with the poverty.  High end retailers go to where the money is and like it or not, many community based organizations go where societal issues are.  Many of them do very good work but by our very presence in the neighbourhood, we make it harder for businesses to operate here.  Long time readers know that I used to work the 4-12 shift at the Salvation Army’s front desk.  We are right across from what I thought was the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world, The Golden Dragon.  All of the time we would have drunks stumble in to our place and then over to The Golden Dragon causing all sorts of problems for the owners and it’s customers.  That takes a toll on your business and no wonder I have to walk downtown to get a Starbucks.  In the last year or so the Salvation Army has followed the lead of other shelters and has worked hard at keeping the residents and users of our services off the front sidewalk and to the side of the building where we purchased two heavy duty (and quite nice) picnic tables and umbrellas.   Our janitors work hard at sweeping up cigarette butts and garbage but every morning that I come to work there are some guys loitering out front (it is a public sidewalk).  The same can be said about the front of the Saskatoon Food Bank, the Friendship Inn, the Lighthouse, the Bridge on 20th and a variety of other social organizations on 20th Street.  Despite that Wendy has twice been accosted while waiting for me to get off work by guys looking for money and sadly we still get complaints made by people who have had to endure comments by our clients as they walked by.

I don’t know how much it changes the neighbourhood.  What would be the difference between 20th Street if there was no community based organizations there?  Would it be a thriving business district or without the social structures and emergency services that organizations provide would it be worse off.  Is there an alternative way to deliver services?

To answer that, I first want to take a look at what life is life for those that are living under $10,000 / year because without that, we don’t even know what is really needed.  I’ll post more tomorrow.

A look at Riversdale: Introduction

Far too long ago, I planned to write a series of articles on life in the inner city for this blog.  I wrote a background piece to why I care about the topic and I had hoped to publish an article every week or so.  What I found is that the more I wrote, the more questions I had and the more interconnected the problems and solutions are.  In the last couple of months I have read thousands of pages on urban planning, poverty, crime, gangs, drugs, and prostitution.  I sat in on the Salvation Army’s John School and found myself weeping at the stories of lost girls, women being beaten, and angered by the impact of johns stalking a neighbourhood (it’s happening in my neighbourhood as well right now).  As odd as it has been, I have also found myself walking through Riversdale, talking to guys I know down there, hearing stories, and just chilling out down there.

On top of that, Dave Hutton’s article on the concentration of services in Riversdale a couple of months ago has been the ice breaker in every meeting I have had over since it came out.  Both City Councillor Pat Lorje and Riversdale Business Improvement District’s Randy Pshebylo where effective in bringing up the topic in a variety of interviews over a couple of weeks and in my circles, it generated a lot of debate and discussion.   Shortly after the article came out, I had a chance to talk with Councillor Lorje and Mr. Pshebylo at The Salvation Army Community Services open house we met with them at work later on to talk more about the topic.  After talking with both of them, Councillor Lorje gave me a couple of more articles and papers on homelessness and urban planning which gave me more to read.  I spent a couple of weeks at the cabin reading them and other material and had to endure being called a nerd more than once when people saw what I was reading on holidays (when I said that I was reading Bob Woodward’s The War Within as well, their viewpoint wasn’t changed).  I have a lot of respect for both Lorje and Pshebylo.  Both of them have contributed a lot to the life of the city and they brought up a lot of good points.  Yet at the same time their solution seemed incomplete to me and I wanted to spend some time thinking it over.  Those thoughts, ideas, rebuttals and replies started to get written down and will be posted here in pieces over the next month.  If you miss something, don’t worry, I will be linking to each piece at the end of each post. 

As to where to start, I thought I would offer my initial thoughts on part of Dave Hutton’s Star Phoenix article.

I still remember the morning the article came out.  We get a couple of Star Phoenix’s delivered each morning (by the world’s bravest paper kid) to work and I normally wander in, check out the log books, chat with staff, and read the paper.  Since we have more staff right now than normal with the training of staff for the much delayed Mumford House, I now read The Star Phoenix online in my office over coffee.  By the time I got to my office my e-mail and voice mail were flooded with people asking me “did you see what Pat Lorje said about you?”  Well know I hadn’t and I went online to see what was up.  The entire article is worth a read.  You can read the article here.

The overabundance of support agencies for poor and homeless people concentrated in Riversdale needs to be addressed in what the city councillor for the area is calling "solution by dilution."

"The simple fact is that the status quo is not working," Coun. Pat Lorje said in an interview. "We need to think about alternative models."

Many of the city’s social supports for homeless people are concentrated in the area, trapping people in negative lifestyles, Lorje said. The result is the creation of a society unto itself, from which it is harder to pull people out because they are exposed to more intense levels of the forces that cause, and keep, people homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol, Lorje said.

Consolidating existing services and spreading support agencies throughout the city would help, she said.

"The issue is not just poverty," she said. "It’s the concentration of poverty."

Lorje is backed on the issue by the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District. Randy Pshebylo says the burden of helping the homeless and drug-addicted needs to be shared by other neighbourhoods.

The concentration of any one thing — be it bars and pubs, pawn shops, retail stores, restaurants or social organizations — diminishes the strength of any neighbourhood, Pshebylo said.

Missions and soup kitchens are better suited for the avenues adjacent to 20th Street than the main business strip, he said.

"We just want an equitable neighbourhood," he said. "You don’t put your sink in your living room."

Lorje isn’t calling for a moratorium or freeze on social organizations in Riversdale — a step taken by other impoverished neighbourhoods in Canada and the U.S. — but said there needs to be less overlap.

"I would encourage organizations and church groups to start consolidating their services," she said. "It’s not a competition to see who can do it best, it should be co-operation to see who can do it most effectively to get people off the street."

The part of the article that jumped out me was this.

Many of the city’s social supports for homeless people are concentrated in the area, trapping people in negative lifestyles, Lorje said. The result is the creation of a society unto itself, from which it is harder to pull people out because they are exposed to more intense levels of the forces that cause, and keep, people homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol, Lorje said.

It’s a frustrating quote to read.  We fight against the culture of drugs and alcohol everyday at the Centre.  We do everything we can to help people move on from the lifestyle.  Since the housing boom and the rental increases took hold and our length of stays increased, we have done a lot to help guys get “unstuck”.  We have added two full time caseworkers to help clients who don’t have a plan to find safe and sustainable housing to get one.  Than we provide follow up as they overcome their barriers to housing.  Once they are ready to move out, we provide them with household goods, help them set up an apartment, and provide support when they are out (if needed).

In addition to that, we have always taken a tough stand against drugs and alcohol abuse and it has never been popular with clients, parents, other social agencies.  As a staff, we pay a cost for that stand.  I have had the lug nuts loosened on my Honda Accord, windows smashed, clients who have tracked down where I lived and had my son’s life threatened.   Having my own life threatened is so routine that my response is often flippant.   We had to taxi a staff member to and from work for months because of the severity of the threat against him (and honestly, he was just sitting beside me having a cup of cold coffee when the guy threatened him).  We pay a lot of money for evidentiary breathalyzers (and the literally thousands of tips we go through a year), we don’t take in guys who are still actively using and have banned known drug dealers (who have moved down the street from a Narcotics Anonymous meeting where they pick off people who are heading to the meeting), we have drug tests to help us determine drug use and the best course of action for our clients, as well as non stop bag checks, room inspections, and even the occasional police dog wandering through and yet it seems like there is a bigger problem with drug use then there was ever before and not just in Riversdale (see my post on this from December 2009).

So yes, Councillor Lorje is totally right, there is a culture of drug and alcohol abuse.  The question I have is whether or not the homeless shelters and social agencies contributing to it.  That’s an incredibly hard question to answer.  The more I read about the problem, the more I was convinced that the problems in Riversdale (and other urban cores) were being over simplified.  Yes there is a problem with the concentration of services in Riversdale but it’s a lot bigger than that.  As I have been mulling the issues that affect Riversdale and other urban areas, the more I kept thinking of Thomas Homer-Dixon’s book The Ingenuity Gap.  In it Homer-Dixon writes that the world’s problems are escaping our abilities to manage them.  As problems grow in complexity, so the solutions.  When I was a kid, there was always problems in Riversdale.  You could always see a drunk or two outside the Albany or the Barry Hotels.  Now there is the booze, the moonshine, the drugs, the theft, the prostitution, the gangs, the guys with untreated mental health issues, those struggling with all of it and it is concentrated in one part of the city.  The question is why and what do can do you about it?

So the plan is to first look at the problem and it’s interconnectedness.  After that, I’ll head back to what I see are the solutions.  Tomorrow we take a longer look of concentration of services in Riversdale and try to figure out their role in all of this.