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The cost of a curb

Since my interview two weeks ago with David Eby, lawyer for Pivot Legal Society, there is something that I have…

By Darren Fleet , in Blogs East Van Rapporteur , on February 12, 2008

Since my interview two weeks ago with David Eby, lawyer for Pivot Legal Society, there is something that I have not been able to get out of my mind.

We were discussing the Frank Paul Inquiry when Eby said that each 911 call for Paul in the years leading up to his death cost about $1000 in government services. My eyes bugged out.

In total Eby said, Frank Paul cost the system upwards of one hundred thousand dollars a year. Normally, this type of financial emphasis is used to justify slashing social policy, but from Eby it was referenced to emphasize a point – it costs far more to keep a person on the street than to house them.

After discussing Frank Paul, we talked about a Pivot publication to be released this February, Housing Solutions for the Downtown Eastside. In the preamble, Eby mentioned a 2001 BC government report saying that the cost of a homeless person in government services is between 30,000 and 40,000 dollars a year, while the cost of a supportive housing unit for that same person is between 22,000 and 28,000.

With evidence lining up that it is both ethically and financially more viable to house people, I asked Eby why there are still so many homeless people in Vancouver.

“The main challenge that we face around the housing issue is an ideology,” Eby replied. “And at its core the ideology says: why should you get a free house when I don’t get a free house?”

His answer reminded me of what Dr. James Frankish, UBC Centre for Population Health Promotion Research, calls acceptable levels of dissonance. That is, every society has a degree of avoidable injustice it is willing to tolerate for the sake of greater values. What is clear when looking at the DTES is that homelessness is accepted in our society. This is no more evident than in the Premier’s recent remarks in Metro that “the Olympic Games is about spirit and community.”

This type of doublespeak is usually reserved for Oceania.

In a battle of hearts and minds, numbers speak louder than words. A curb costs more than a home, and on that curb rests our community’s values: a booming economy, billions of dollars for games, rising homelessness and still no homes.

The cost of a curb is much greater than the money that could be saved.