by Gregory Saville
This city was once one of my favorites. Even today, there are still great, and well-used, neighborhood parks. Nature here is spectacular with nearby rivers, lush forests, and a Pacific Ocean coast an hour or so drive. Yet, all is not well in this once spectacular city.
Portland, Oregon is applauded in urban planning for its efficient public transit, beautiful architecture, and a famous urban growth boundary that preserved farms and forests alike.
Portland was a model for America and here on SafeGrowth we have posted blogs on neighborhood innovations that show how neighborhood planning can work, such as the Intersection Repair program.
Sadly, no more. I spent a week there recently co-teaching SafeGrowth and discovered something is catastrophically wrong in Portland. I truly hope it does not portend the decline of that great city. I hope it is not a bellwether for other cities.
WHAT IS GOING ON?
As in all major cities in the U.S., crime, especially homicide, is increasing. Homicides have been increasing yearly in Portland for 5 years (the police defunding movement cannot claim full responsibility).
Homelessness has never been worse. Downtown streets are lined with boarded-up buildings, vacant properties, and addicts on seemingly every corner. It looks like the beginning of the worst years in Detroit!
How did this happen? For starters, consider 100 straight days of protests and riots in 2020. Then add racial unrest and anti-police protests. Throw in COVID shutdowns and economic strife and a persistent inability to respond effectively to street homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse. This is a perfect storm for urban decline.
Our work there has just begun and the Portlanders engaged in the SafeGrowth crime prevention work are impressive and dedicated to making things better. I’m curious to see how much help they get from other organizations. They have plenty of conceptual crime prevention tools and a system for tackling the big issues. But they are just getting started and there is much work to do.
In the meantime, there are so many critical questions to consider: How to respond to mental illness? How to tame the rash of shootings? How to provide humane and effective services to the homeless? How to reclaim downtown Portland for all Portlanders?
WHAT OF THE POLICE?
One of those critical questions involves the Portland Police.
I have worked for three decades to reform the police academy curriculum toward the 21st Century. I have co-written books on the deficiencies in police training, patrol, hiring, and supervision. I have co-written, with my colleague Gerard Cleveland, OpEds in the Denver Post newspaper describing what should be done.
As Jane Jacobs said, as necessary as police are, they cannot control crime without the intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary social controls among people themselves (in other words, SafeGrowth). But her injunction deliberately attaches the phrase "the police - as necessary as they are." So what is happening to the necessary role of police in Portland?
THE STREET REALITY
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell says his force now has less than 40 officers patrolling the streets each night and, according to CNN "he doesn't think that is nearly enough to deal with the increased violence. During one weekend, his department had over 1,200 calls for help.”
Is he right, I wondered? As a former police planner, I slipped back into my habit of crunching the numbers:
Of course, that only works if Portland police use single-officer patrols and not two-officer patrols (I have no clue which they use). Further, many of those 25 calls require two officers to attend (car crashes with injuries, bar fights, etc). What does that do to the bottom line?
What do we know about the geography of policing in Portland?
IS THIS ALL THAT MATTERS?
Admittedly, this back-of-the-envelope calculation is probably too conservative. But it is a best-case result and to leaders and citizens alike, it should pose an alarming question: Is there really only 1 officer available for every 14.5 square miles in Portland during busy weekends?
If so, no wonder the Portlanders I spoke to complained about a complete absence of police. After all, if Portland cops are not already on a call, then they are spread so thin it is unlikely the dispatch supervisor can afford to send them to anything but the most serious offenses.
Do Portland residents no longer have a police department able to do its job! If so, then who is responding to the drug dealing, street assaults, robberies, sexual crimes, and so forth?
Is this call-ratio/quality-of-police response all that matters? No. But it is enough to get started.
SafeGrowth can make a major impact on community engagement. And there are many reasons to reform the police. But stripping down your emergency response to almost zero? Does that really make sense? What are the alternative emergency response options? I know of attempts to create small special response units. I know the recent trend is to pair officers with social workers in cars.
But, let’s be frank. These are piecemeal answers. There are better ways to solve problems, better training methods, better leadership styles, and better ways to govern police.
Today Portland suffers. The residents, minority groups, the disenfranchised, and the police themselves, deserve better!
GUEST BLOG - Lilit Houlder is an urban planner working with a consulting firm in Edmonton, Canada. She is the most recent member of the SafeGrowth team and in this blog she describes her observations of the urban homeless in the middle of a global pandemic – a situation far too common across the developed world.
Edmonton has the largest number of unsheltered homeless people living within a Canadian city - approximately 1,070 persons.
While there are many support services, there are not enough beds or shelter spaces. This poses a problem for Edmonton, which is a place also known as a winter city. With temperatures dropping significantly below freezing during its long winter season, the city has an emergency plan.
For temperatures below -30 Celsius, the city’s Sector Emergency Response program gets activated to provide free public transportation, essential services, security, and a place to sleep. The city encourages citizens to keep an eye out for anyone in distress during the extreme cold and contact the city response team. The program consists of 25 partner organizations that communicate with each other and share resources. Partnerships such as this strengthen the municipal capacity to address an intractable urban problem.
The city mustered money with support from provincial and federal governments to purchase and repurpose underutilized hotels and to run 24/7 shelters. All necessary supports are given in one place, and people can socially distance themselves to avoid the spread of COVID. This is similar to British Columbia’s legislation last year to use motels for the homeless, as reported in Jon Munn’s blog.
Purchasing and repurposing hotels is an initiative created by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to adopt more non-profit housing for homeless Canadians. Edmonton purchases hotels that would otherwise operate at extremely low capacities and become a financial burden on the landowners.
Some cities like Portland are creating temporary community support shelters, such as those reported by Tod Schneider. But with Edmonton’s much colder weather, another approach emerged that is showing up in cities across North America - repurposing civic facilities.
The city turned the Shaw Conference Center into a 24/7 shelter that offered space for socializing, COVID testing, treating basic medical and mental health needs, and connecting to other support services. What made this venue different is that it was large enough to provide users space for self-isolation if showing symptoms of COVID. Smaller spaces, such as local churches or community halls or community support shelters would not have had sufficient space to accommodate this unique challenge.
2ND GENERATION CPTED
Although deployed across an entire city versus a single neighbourhood, each of the municipal strategies underway in Edmonton emphasize the power of 2nd Generation CPTED principles as a way to respond to municipal social problems.
For example, connectivity tactics included linking to upper-level governments for resources and funding. Finding a civic space with enough capacity to house such a large population is, by definition, the very heart of the connectivity principle. It was the same for connections with the 25 organizations in the Sector Emergency Response program – they had the ability to bring food, health, financial support, clothing, and other resources to alleviate the suffering of people with no place to sleep.
Another example - By educating people about the needs of the homeless during the coldest time of the year, citizens across the entire city participated in watching for vulnerable people during extreme weather. Social cohesion at such a large scale in Edmonton illustrates that, when integrated into part of urban culture, citizens who are organized to work together on a common purpose can go a long way to making life safer for the most vulnerable.
GUEST BLOG: Tod Schneider is an old friend and has posted blogs here on CPTED in schools. Since then we have posted many blogs on homeless issues such as homeless reduction and tactical urbanism in Portland. Here, Tod shares his latest innovative work on homeless shelters.
by Tod Schneider, Executive Director, Community Homeless Shelters
Most homeless camps have a bad rap for good reasons: they’re poorly designed, if designed at all; they’re under-funded if they’re funded at all; they’re managed by people unequipped to manage at all; and they’re sheltering primarily people who are wrestling with severe life crises.
Community Supported Shelters is different. We have an approach that works. We shelter people with few resources who would like help pulling their lives back together. Our effectiveness is reflected in the widespread support we receive from the homeless population, the advocate community, the police, and the local government.
Although NIMBY continues to be a challenge, we even have widespread support from the general public, reflected in the $350,000 in private donations we received last year. Here are the key ingredients that work for us:
Many people start out needing help with basic needs: replacing lost I.D., lost teeth, and lost dignity, making supportive friends or finding a decent meal, getting used to people looking them in the eye, or calling them by name.
Two out of three of our campers move on to better circumstances in less than a year. We started with one hut, next to a church, in a wary community. We added three camps over the next half dozen years, and support started to grow. In September 2020, the local government, having seen our effectiveness, came to us with enthusiasm, pulled out their checkbooks and funded five new camps. We’ll be sheltering 160 people in 8 camps by somewhere around Valentine’s Day.
To learn more about CSS, visit our website, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Mateja Mihinjac
The above quote from Sherlock Holmes brings to mind a question we ask municipal leaders: How do you most often respond to crime? They typically describe hiring more police or installing CCTV. They are mystified why these cookie-cutter solutions work so rarely to ensure safety.
I've recently gone down a rabbit hole, binge-watching the Netflix docuseries Diagnosis. The main premise of the series is crowdsourcing diagnoses for rare medical conditions to help investigate their root causes. It sounds logical – to effectively address the ailments, we need to understand the causes that lead to symptoms and their unique manifestation in an individual and not simply suppress the symptoms with common drugs.
In crime prevention, we often draw parallels with the medical approach to problem-solving. Yet, in practice, we rarely enact this as we don’t give sufficient emphasis to diagnosing the problem – instead, we often apply quick generic solutions.
Consider this: Recently one of our SafeGrowth practitioners experienced an influx of homelessness in his community. The number of thefts and burglaries increased in the homes around his street. He thought it was connected to the homelessness situation, but he was uncertain. He didn’t want to blame disadvantaged people, but he had no idea how to proceed.
Too often we see knee-jerk responses to complex problems. Arrest the homeless? The police tell you they cannot simply arrest without cause and arrest is not the solution. Move the homeless away? But where do they go, where did they come from, and why are the numbers increasing now?
Install security lighting, cameras, and target hardened fences? Quick generic “solutions” like these move the problem from one house to another. Further, it makes the neighbourhood look like an armed camp.
WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
In SafeGrowth we diagnose the problem before we develop solutions. We’ve previously written about simplistic approaches to crime prevention and the need for an integrative approach.
We recognize that each neighbourhood needs an individually tailored approach to identify problems and apply solutions, such as in the homelessness problem above.
We use neighbourhood teams and train them about the importance of understanding the problem before developing solutions. Generic, one-size-fits-all, solutions (like security cameras), are no guarantee of a safe community.
Our approach is scientific and investigative. Our stepwise problem-solving process starts with Problem Identification and Problem Analysis.
Problem identification is an essential step, yet it is often rushed or ignored. Teams identify what they already know about the underlying problems and what they still need to learn. For example, is the homeless problem above related to drug abuse, mental illness, lack of affordable housing, or poor home security?
Teams formulate a series of hypotheses which they then test as they collect and analyse the information. For example: The reason homelessness has increased is due to increases in rents and a lack of affordable housing. Another example: Homeless increases result from an influx of street drugs in our city and the activities of a local street gang.
Problem analysis allows teams to collect and analyse information against each of the hypotheses, integrate the findings and then either accept or disprove the hypotheses.
This systematic and evidence-based investigative process sounds complicated and time-consuming. But it is essential for the team to gain an in-depth understanding of the problems and their causes. That is why SafeGrowth teams are so successful in developing solutions that are tailored to neighbourhood needs.
This is the best path to improve the quality of life for residents in which residents themselves feel they have a role. It is how we avoid ineffective cookie-cutter solutions that don’t work. It is also how we avoid building neighbourhoods that look like fortresses and reduce fear at the same time.
Our 21st Century neighbourhoods deserve no less.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
Around this time last year, I wrote a blog about self-care and new year’s resolutions. I suggested that the best self-care we could engage in, was to take care of others. Through connection and social engagement, we not only are happier and healthier, but we even live longer.
This year, such a suggestion may seem out of touch with reality. The second wave of COVID-19 is well underway in many North American and European neighbourhoods and many places are, once again, increasing social distancing restrictions and locking down. While the promise of the vaccine is on the horizon, most people are preparing for a quiet holiday season that doesn’t involve much social interaction.
These steps are necessary to keep people safe until the vaccine is easily accessible and widely distributed. However, it is hard not to feel a bit distraught at the thought of spending the holidays separated from family and friends.
While we often think about how this pandemic has affected our personal lives, this time of year encourages us to think outwards. For many, the holidays are a time to volunteer and give back. But, COVID-19 has changed this as well.
This was made clear to me when I reached out to a local homelessness charity to donate some clothing and other necessities. Although grateful for any support, the charity has been unable to accept any physical donations in months. The pandemic has made it impossible for them to pass along these donations safely and in keeping with the restrictions.
Furthermore, many of the ways in which these charities have supported their clients in the past, from offering clothing and supplies, to providing crisis housing has changed. All of this work requires additional personal protective equipment and financial support for food and shelter costs.
Most donation drives and volunteer supports have been reduced or eliminated due to restrictions on what can be accepted and how many people can be in a space. For example, Signal Fire, a well-known homeless charity here in Brisbane, has had to shut down or scale back their barbecues. These barbecues not only provide much-needed food and supplies to their clients, but also a chance for social interaction, support, and connection.
While the pandemic has affected all of us, this has been more dramatic than ever for society’s “underclass.” Beyond basic necessities, we also need connection and interaction to stay healthy and happy. For our most vulnerable, these opportunities are all but gone.
As the pandemic persists, those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home, support ourselves and see our friends and family over skype and zoom, may also want to take this opportunity to redirect what we would have spent on big holiday dinners and presents for our extended family and donate that money to a local shelter or charity. These services need financial support to continue their missions and connect with their clients. That connection has never been more important than it is now.
by Jon Munn
GUEST BLOG – This week’s blog tells a story of how COVID-19 affects the homeless, just as it does communities around the world. The blog was submitted by Jon Munn, an urban planner and SafeGrowth Advocate residing in Victoria, British Columbia. Jon is directly involved in the crisis as a member of a local neighborhood action committee. This is his story about how one city is responding to that problem.
COVID-19 has revealed long-standing weaknesses in our health and social systems. The least resilient long-term care homes are showing high death counts. Physical distancing in homeless shelters and couch surfing reveals how huge spaces are needed when health orders force marginalized people to spread out in convention centres, hockey arenas, parking lots, and playing fields.
Homelessness is tough to tackle because it’s not one issue. It’s a result of housing costs, lack of social housing, domestic abuse, mental illness, drug addiction, and so on. The easy thing to do is to combine all these issues into one hot potato and pass the potato.
COVID-19 restrictions came to British Columbia on March 17, 2020. The Provincial Health Officer made an order to prohibit gatherings over 50 people. The next day a provincial emergency was declared and local governments and agencies closed or restricted services to ensure a physical distance of 2 metres (6 feet) between people.
Victoria, a city of 90,000 people in the Capital region of 350,000, is the location of most regional services for homeless people. At the start of the crisis, hundreds of shelter spaces in the city were almost emptied, so on March 23rd, the Victoria Mayor announced outdoor shelters (tent camping) in three parks. Due to limited ability to staff the parks, Topaz Park near Victoria’s northern boundary remained the only site.
THE FIRST VICTIM
The first victim was communication. Perhaps the mayor felt she was pressured into a decide-announce-defend position by the health authorities? The police chief got stuck in the middle as an emergency spokesperson. If homelessness was a regional issue, there was a deafening silence from neighbouring municipalities. Topaz Park neighbours were not involved or notified. Whose agenda was being served by punting the homeless hot potato north? The wealthier city residents to the south? The downtown business community? Was this a plan the mayor had all along?
The provincial health order had commitments to help vulnerable populations, but there was no plan in place to move people into the many vacant hotel rooms in this tourist city. Authorities knew they needed a safety plan or risk a repeat of a 2015 homeless protest and police actions. This time Victorians generously donated tents for the first of two encampments. Tents emerged two kilometers north at Topaz Park shortly after. In effect, there were now two hot potatoes.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND OVERDOSE DEATHS
In the communication vacuum, neighbourhood activists emerged at the nearby Quadra Village Community Centre. The Board at the Centre and its neighbourhood action committee (NAC) wanted to know how to deal with what could be a permanent crime-ridden tent city in their park – one of the city’s largest. Alternatively, could better solutions be found? The federal and provincial governments were offering up money and their hands were forced to act by physical distancing.
I got involved with the NAC for my expertise in community and land use planning. The NAC needed to know how decisions were being made and if there was any way to influence the course of events, so we decided to try and break down some communication silos.
The first ally was the police chief, who was willing to attend a community Zoom meeting on April 9th. The chief brought camp organizers from the nonprofit Coalition to End Homelessness. The meeting revealed the initiative was understaffed and barely able to get sanitary and camp areas organized. Community members said they expected more. The overdose deaths of four people in the Topaz Park camp was discussed widely, as were police reports of increased property crime near the park. The situation got more media attention.
NAC members volunteered at Topaz Park and found that an assessment of the campers' needs was already done. It wasn’t complete, but work was underway to look at individuals’ needs instead of moving people in one group as ‘campers.’ Specific hotels or other locations could then be staffed with people to address mental health, drug addiction or other needs. Without such supports, the game of hot potato would return.
On Saturday, April 25, a press conference was called and a new provincial COVID order was made by Provincial authorities. The order moved homeless people into hotel rooms or other shelters by May 9, 2020, and camp areas would be cleared. In all locations, local government resources were too poor to effect change.
A second Quadra Village-Topaz Park community zoom meeting was held on April 29, 2020. Over half of the 67 registrants didn’t attend, perhaps believing the provincial actions would address the concerns. Provincial Housing and health officials, as well as local police attending the meeting, did not instill complete confidence, but they came with deeper pockets and a transition plan for campers.
ROOTS OF HOPE
The two reasons to have faith in the COVID homeless relocation come from previous commitments by the federal and provincial governments.
First, in 2016, the government of Canada gave support to a health-based harm reduction and Housing First approach to create an environment for stabilizing homeless people who were also involved with drug use.
Second, in 2017 BC Housing announced the Rapid Response to Homelessness (including modular housing) as an immediate response to the growing issue of homelessness across the Province. The magic of modular housing was that it could be constructed quickly, some projects in as little as three months.
One key question remains about Victoria’s Topaz Park: Will we have faith in the system, or will we be looking at fields of mud and used needles by the time the winter rains return?
Part of this story will unfold by May 20, 2020. Only one modular housing project, now in development, has been slated for the Victoria region. A long term issue will be to secure land for modular and other Housing First units, which is a difficult task in a region with low land supply and high costs.
Has COVID helped spur more comprehensive action on the complex issues of homelessness in Victoria? Will economic, social, or political snags trip it up? Stay tuned… these are strange times!
by Tarah Hodgkinson
Oakridge Centre is an area rezoned for a new development in Vancouver, Canada, the largest in the city’s history. It promises advances in urban design and affordability, with numerous public amenities.
It will be a transit-oriented development with futuristic apartments complete with advanced home technology and custom furniture. It will contain shared spaces in each tower that assure a combination of “private life and common life to be a true community.”
The Centre has been receiving kudos for advancements in design, its focus on transit, mobility and accessibility. Oakridge Centre boasts it will have a mix of market and affordable housing, with 25% of its new housing developments allotted for social and non-market housing.
For a city that has been suffering a housing crisis for several years, this should be a huge improvement.
IS IT REALLY AFFORDABLE HOUSING?
Sounds great, doesn’t it? In a country where a quarter of all households spend more than 30% of their gross income on shelter and in a city where the average one-bedroom apartment requires a $84,000 yearly income, or about $2,100 a month - the current Vancouver median household income is $65,000 - obviously, there is a desperate need for affordable housing.
But what about affordability at Oakridge? How is it defined? The documents on Oakridge Centre do not offer a metric for “affordability.” They rarely offer any measure of cost or percentage of household income. However, to qualify for BC’s Housing Income Limits rates, household income can not exceed $41,500 for a bachelor suite, $48,000 for a one-bedroom, or $58,000 for a two bedroom.
As such, the competition for these units would be extraordinarily high and do little to address the current housing crisis in the city. For those who earn beyond the Housing Limit qualifiers, the market rates are untenable. Condo pricing starts at $800,000 and peaks at $5.5 million.
WHAT DOES “AFFORDABLE” ACTUALLY COST?
Assuming a 10% down-payment, the average person would need an income of $105,000 per year for the cheapest condo, over $30,000 more that the median household income in Vancouver in 2015. Considering figures like these, a review of the available material suggests that social housing is not integrated into the development at all.
Social integration is a large contributor to social capital and it helps the poor move out of poverty, but this example seems to pay little more than lip-service to affordable housing and diverse community-building. It caters to luxury clients while offering self-congratulations for exceeding city targets of 20%.
We have been writing about the housing and homelessness on this blog for several years. Cities and residents cannot continue to accept development that prides itself on offering a percentage of “affordable housing” while the other 75% is considered luxury and completely unaffordable to the average citizen. Affordability is more than just cheap rentals and social housing. It is a human right.
When the median household income is almost less than half of what is necessary to afford the cheapest unit in a new development, no amount of transit-oriented development, public amenities, or brilliant design will prevent financial desperation or homelessness. If Vancouver, and cities like it, want to build futuristic cities, they need to build cities for everyone.
by Gregory Saville
Johann Schropfer was an 18th Century charlatan and swindler famous for his projections of "ghosts" in smoke-filled rooms during seances. That trick was the origin of the smoke and mirrors scam, an illusion perpetrated by someone with something up their sleeve - in Schropfer's case, fraud.
A friend recently texted me the TV documentary Seattle is Dying about homelessness in Seattle. The website of the Seattle KOMO TV station that made the film says: "It's about parents who won't take their children into the public parks they pay for. It's about filth and degradation all around us. And theft and crime."
There's nothing new about blight and fear in urban America. We've blogged on homelessness for years and have been working on the International CPTED Association homelessness committee to develop strategies for CPTED practitioners.
Nor is there anything new about Seattle's homelessness problem. Social workers, police, and others who work with the homeless have justifiably complained about insufficient support and ineffective actions. Politicians struggle to find answers. No doubt this is serious.
But is Seattle's homelessness any different from other places? Local media are supposed to focus on local stories, hopefully, so some good comes out of the coverage. Consider the Los Angeles story about Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless musician befriended by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez, who wrote articles and a book on his story (later featured in the 2009 film The Soloist). That turned into millions of dollars in city support for the LA skid row.
What's different in Seattle? Local media now claim Seattle's problem is the worst in the country. Is it?
Then I saw a Fox News broadcast about the KOMO documentary and heard this from a right-wing pundit: "Seattle is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It is among the most liberal and as a direct result of that Seattle is now a haven for homelessness and drug use." That, says Fox News, is the reason for Seattle's problems. That is also, I suspect, how a smoke and mirrors illusion starts.
Here are lessons to help you smash those mirrors and clear that smoke:
WHAT DO THE STATS SAY?
Here are some actual stats for 2016 - 2018:
In other words, cities like Miami, Tulsa and Oklahoma City have homeless rates much worse than Seattle. Interestingly, Tulsa and Oklahoma City are among the most conservative cities in the country and yet Tulsa has a homeless rate double that of Seattle! The KOMO documentary fails to mention that. Why?
WHO OWNS KOMO?
KOMO News 4 is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, among the most infamous media conglomerates and, according to some political scientists, a close ally of the Trump administration.
Political researchers have studied Sinclair and their outlets and concluded Sinclair has engaged in a litany of biased practices in news reporting and faced intense scrutiny from media critics, as well as some from its own station employees, for the conservative slant of their stations' news reporting.
The Nobel winning Center for Public Integrity has repeatedly raised the alarm about bias at Sinclair stations.
And now the KOMO/Sinclair conglomerate tell us "Seattle is Dying". Is this a case of Fox News pundits using smoke and mirrors for another attack on liberal cities at a time when political polarization is epidemic?
Homelessness truly is a serious problem. It deserves proper research and someone telling the whole story. The suffering of those on the street - and the frustration of well-intentioned professionals like social workers, police, and others - deserve no less. As we have advocated repeatedly, homelessness is a modern scourge we must solve.
To offer up a smoke and mirrors claim that "liberal" cities are the culprit and then use a documentary that ignores crucial homelessness data in other cities makes me wonder; Would Johann Schropfer be impressed?
by Gregory Saville
Last week I walked rain-soaked streets in Manhattan and in ten blocks, 15 different homeless people approached me asking for cash. A few suffered mental illness, some a demon intoxicant, and others the unfairness of circumstance. One reached out for dollars with his left hand while he clutched a cell phone in his right. Everyone's story was different - except they were all on the street.
I often feel an apoplectic irrelevance at moments like that. Why does homelessness persist? What can be done? We have blogged many times about homelessness in Reducing homelessness, part 1 & 2, Sidewalk sleeping in Toronto, Hostile architecture and CPTED, and Dignity Village.
I’ve coauthored an ICA White Paper, on the topic, and Tarah Hodgkinson heads an ICA Homelessness committee to seek alternatives. But blogs and White Papers don't solve the problem. What can we do?
Big cities have always had homeless but for the first time in a very long time, the number of unsheltered homeless people is rising. Bucking a decade-long decline, homeless numbers have been increasing since 2017.
No surprise: New York and Los Angeles - the largest cities - had the largest numbers (over 130,000 combined).
Big surprise: Seattle and Silicon Valley’s San Jose had the 3rd and 6th largest homeless populations. Apparently, street living in those high tech cities bypasses the riches flowing from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Facebook who also reside there.
Of the smaller cities, all but 2 of the 10 worst homeless cities were in warmer climate states (Florida, California, and Hawaii) where winter snows are absent.
Overall, numbers are down. Some kinds of homelessness continue to decline, child homelessness and veteran homelessness. Further, some states do much better at taking care of homeless people with overnight shelters. New York and Massachusetts house almost all of their homeless overnight (95% each). On the other hand, California, Nevada and Mississippi house only 49% to 68% of their homeless overnight.
There are some good news stories from Canada. Since 2015, the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, Saskatchewan (population 60,000) has eradicated homelessness in their city.
Clearly, negligent cities have much to learn from others, including the homeless themselves.
SafeGrowth advocate Kallan Lyons worked at a Toronto homeless shelter and helped produce Streets to Script, a book of writing in the words of those in the shelter. One resident, Phoenix, writes:
I sit and ponder,
Why life has turned out this way,
I had thought my life would turn out differently…
I will make a better life for myself,
So I sit and ponder,
How my life can move forward.
Yes, Phoenix, you can move forward. We all can do better to help you.
Security robot on patrol - Video Washington Post
Luddite: (adjective) one of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; broadly: one who is opposed to especially technological change - Merriam-Webster
by Greg Saville
The story of the Luddite resonated last week with word from San Francisco about a controversy surrounding the K-5 Security Robot. We blogged on the K-5 a few years ago - On the threshold of a robotics revolution.
Since then the journey of the security robot has not been straight; it has been drowned in a Washington DC fountain and it has mistakenly run over a toddler's leg at a Palo Alto shopping center.
And last week, according to Newsweek, the security robot was removed from duty after deterring homeless encampments near the San Francisco SPCA. Apparently homeless people vandalized the SPCA robot, angry about being singled out by the SPCA and the security robot.
LUDDITE OR TECHNOPHILE
The issue is layered. On one hand, security robots are the latest technology and like all new technologies, they can be applied in ways both sacred and profane. There are places, such as underground parking lots, where an automated security patroller with surveillance tools can keep watch and help make isolated places safer.
In the San Francisco case, SPCA representative Krista Maloney says“staff wasn't able to safely use the sidewalks at times because of the encampments… since the SPCA started guarding its facilities with the robot (known as K9) a month ago, the homeless encampments have dwindled and there have been fewer car break-ins.”
But beneath the surface lurks a darker story.
THE DARK SIDE
This blog has reported on the so-called hostile architecture movement, especially CPTED tactics used to dehumanize places to exclude certain groups over other groups. Dealing with homeless encampments, which by definition means dealing with homeless people, with a security robot, is a questionable tactic. And the homeless have been outraged. Since the security robot began patrolling in front of the SPCA, the Washington Post claims it has been "allegedly smeared with feces, covered by a tarp and nearly toppled by an attacker."
Are there better, more humane, solutions? In some communities, Housing First programs, seem to work. In fact, the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, population 65,000, claims to have eliminated homelessness with the Housing First strategy. Why isn’t San Francisco helping the SPCA and the homeless with such a program?
by Mateja Mihinjac
Not long ago we blogged about Dignity Village from Portland, the first organised tiny housing homeless community. Similar villages have expanded elsewhere across the US, and have been together with Housing First strategies attributed a drop in homelessness.
These villages offer more than just housing. They also foster a sense of community within a supportive, respectful and usually self-governing environment that empowers the homeless to rebuild their lives. Social cohesion emerges from respect for shared goals and each other’s well-being. Connectivity helps to integrate the homeless with the local community and outside service providers.
Australia has recently introduced its first homeless village projects. The Tiny Homes Foundation from NSW received an approval for a 2-year pilot project to build 4 self-contained houses and communal areas while the Victoria-based Launch Housing announced it will build 57 tiny homes on a currently unused VicRoads land.
Tiny Homes Foundation is a blueprint for other Australian projects. It has forged strong collaborative relationships with service providers, volunteers, and local communities and it helps homeless people transition to permanent housing, employment, and society.This will ensure that the project remains true to “housing first, not housing only” approach.
Experience from existing projects provide some lessons as a step for solving the homelessness crisis:
Homelessness is a human rights issue. It should not exist in the first place or be allowed to progress. Social policies need to reflect this if Australia (indeed countries everywhere), wishes to reach the goal of halving homelessness by 2025. Support for tiny house villages is the first step towards realising that goal.
By Mateja Mihinjac
In 2008 the Australian Government released its first White Paper on homelessness in which it announced a plan to cut homelessness in half and house all rough sleepers (a British term for those sleeping in the street) by 2020. Seeing little progress, the leading Australian charities have jointly committed to reaching this goal by 2025.
However, one of the major reasons behind homelessness is rarely discussed - housing affordability.
SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM
Australia is one of the world’s wealthiest nations and it seems unacceptable that it cannot provide affordable housing to all citizens when a sizable number of homes remain unoccupied. Yet, in 2016 the number of those experiencing homelessness in Australia on any given night was estimated at 105,000.
Exact homeless figures are always difficult to estimate, but this amounts to around 0.45% of the Australian population, a national figure that has remained relatively stable since 2011. For comparison, England’s estimates are around 275,000 (0.5% of population) while the US estimates 564,708 (0.2% of population).
To make matters worse, concentrated homelessness has increased in major city downtown areas in spite of a slight downward trend around the world.
THE PARADOX OF PUBLIC SPACE
The homeless frequently occupy public spaces of city centers which offer them safety and access to resources. Yet, as with other cities around the world like Denver and Miami, some Australian cities employ social cleansing by removing homeless groups or banning homeless camps as bad for tourism even though homelessness is not illegal.
For example, the Melbourne Mayor has recently announced a proposal for a complete ban of rough sleepers in the city. These practices displace the homeless to peripheries of cities, pushing them farther away from much-needed services thereby reducing their prospects of ever resolving homelessness. We can do much better!
Next blog – tiny homes and other solutions.
My blog on London's design out crime spikes to deter homeless haunted my thoughts until I read a recent story from Vancouver.
RainCity Housing is one of those hard-working non-profits we don't hear enough about. They provide social housing, help those with mental illness and addictions and work to get the homeless into housing. Spring Advertising is a creative advertising firm who worked with RainCity to design an innovative bench cover that morphs into a temporary shelter at night.
It's a far cry from homeless spikes. Of course an ad stunt is obviously no solution to homelessness. Then again, neither are the spikes that cruelly dot London's landscape.
We might not have the answer to the problem of homelessness but as the RainCity/Spring collaboration suggests, we can still be humane.
Homelessness in England is up and news reports now call it Anti-Social Behavior. In the UK, Design Out Crime has had success reducing ASB, but not always. Some solutions, unfortunately, have been a disaster. Case in point: Anti-sleeping spikes to deter homeless transients.
Bench dividers and seating spikes have long been used by target hardeners as a loitering deterrent. Now some properties in London use spikes to deter the homeless from sleeping on windows and doorway entrances near their stores. Even the Mayor of London hates the idea. Public outrage agrees.
Anti-spiking groups have now taken action and poured cement over spikes. They complain that spiking is unethical when program budgets to house the homeless are cut to the bone.
One online petition to remove anti-homeless spikes reached 120,000 names in a single week.
Not that it needs repeating yet again on this blog, but opportunity reduction by itself is insufficient. Singular strategies that attack crime and place alone - and not the conditions that give rise to them - divert attention from long-term solutions. They lull us into believing the problem is gone when it isn't.
This is an important lesson for target hardeners. Fail to use collaborative solutions and targeted social strategies - or do so without a coherent plan to apply 2nd Generation CPTED - and risk a backlash of unintended consequences.
Less than a mile from this latest controversy are the buildings of the award-winning Design Against Crime Centre at Central St Martin's College. Professor Lorraine Gamman and her talented team have led socially responsive crime prevention design projects for ages.
Why don't the target hardeners just ask experts like Lorraine's group how to work with the homeless and build more inclusive and safe environments?
My favorite Lorraine quote: "Spikes are part of an outdated fortress aesthetic not welcome in communities, where there is recognition that urban design needs to be inclusive."
Rules can oppress or invigorate. Consider a satellite image of lights on the Korean peninsula. Look at what years of oppressive rules have done to the north compared to the open society in the south.
My recent blogs on homelessness made me wonder if cities fail the homeless because of rules? Why can't they do better?
Paul Romer has a fascinating idea. He calls it the Charter City.
Charter Cities are reform zones where people can escape bad rules of today's cities and opt for a new kind of city with better rules. In his first TED.com talk he described charter cities as special administrative free-trade zones. They will be safer, environmentally friendly, and will contain all the needed resources for residents, especially the poor.
Romer is no woo-woo slouch. He's an economist who transformed growth theory in the 1980s. He's also senior fellow at Stanford's Institute for Economic Policy.
His idea behind Charter Cities is this: It is easier to start cities from scratch on vacant land rather than get bogged down by the oppressive political rules, legal traps, and special interest groups blocking progress in today's cities.
The City Journal says once a host government designates an uninhabited land area and establishes an independent charter, anyone can choose the rules of a charter city and move there.
The full idea is described on the Charter City website.
Apparently the idea is catching on.
This year the Honduras Congress adopted Romers idea and passed a constitutional amendment to create charter cities.
Will the rural poor move into these special economic zones and end up in 3rd-world styled sweat shops? Romer claims factory workers need not live in slums. Instead, Charter Cities will have laws to ensure proper utilities and decent low-cost housing.
Why not wait for technology to solve problems of poverty and pollution? Romer says new technology will come too late. Instead he says more relaxed rules and new ideas about how people interact will unleash creative potential. Creating independent and open cities allows that to happen.
Check out Romer's latest TED.com talk.
I'm with a Jeckel-and-Hyde Toronto this week. Like many successful cities, in some places there are vibrant and hip streets that absolutely fizzle with energy. In others, the homeless and indigent remind us nowhere is perfect.
Homelessness shows up in my SafeGrowth blogs on Vancouver,Seattle, and Houston.
I've also posted local solutions to homelessness in Portland and Colorado.
Walking downtown Toronto this week I saw more absolute homelessness than I've seen in a long time in this city.
In 1998 mayors across Canada declared homelessness a national disaster. Since then it hasn't improved. In many other countries, like the US, it is even worse.
In 2008 the University of Ottawa's Institute for the Prevention of Crime published a study called Homelessness, Victimization and Crime: Knowledge and Recommendations - a rather sterile title that seems to understate the tragic drama of an ignored person asleep on a sidewalk grate.
Luckily the report thoroughly lays out the dimensions of homelessness for Canada and urban places everywhere.
It reveals how homeless people are more likely to become involved in, and victims of, crime (mostly minor crime like public disorder). And while many homeless are incarcerated, a high proportion suffer from mental disorders and addictions rarely treated in the prison system.
The report offers up solutions like housing, shelters, social assistance, mental health treatment, and addiction programs. It offers controversial solutions like repealing laws that prohibit children with behavioral problems from attending mainstream schools. (It's those same kids who end up on the street.)
Sadly, as a walk in downtown Toronto and most other large urban cities confirms, four years after their report too many downtown streets are still the home of sidewalk sleepers.
Solutions on the page do nothing for tragedy on the stage. We need to do more.
Read their report HERE.
[NOTE: SafeGrowth's host site, Google's Blogger, has been offline this week for repairs]
CPTED tells us a great way to enhance safety is to improve the maintenance and image of a place. In policing they call it fixing broken windows. We rarely hear how to do that. Is there a specific way that works better than others? One might think image and maintenance is a simple matter. Perhaps that's true in clean-ups for short-term gain. It's less so if you want long term sustainability.
This week I saw a clean-up and enforcement project that did it different. As SafeGrowth suggests, it demonstrates the importance of a rigorous collaborative process. Yesterday that project won the 2010 award for excellence in problem-solving at the International Problem-Oriented Policing Conference in Dallas. It is the Colorado Springs Police Department Homelessness Outreach program.
A year ago I described that one fallout of the Great Recession was the exploding number of homeless in squatter settlements like Tent Cities. I described an interesting innovation in Portland called Liberty Village.
Now Colorado Springs has begun to come to terms with it.
Like many cities, hundreds of homeless people were squatting in unsafe and unsanitary conditions in Colorado Springs. Life in makeshift tents (or in nothing at all) is a miserable experience; there are no provisions, sewage, water, nor protection from the elements. Not to mention the danger from crime.
Police tried clean-ups, arrest and removal of abandoned property. When they were criticized for civil rights violations, they stopped. Then the sanitation problem worsened with piles of litter, garbage and human waste. At that point over 500 people were living in a homeless tent city.
The police formed a special team to apply problem-oriented policing. The key, they say, was collaborating with numerous groups. They spoke to a hundred homeless people to discover their needs.
ANALYSIS - DOING THEIR HOMEWORK
They examined programs across the country and researched new laws. They analyzed and mapped the scope of their problem and found a majority of related calls for police service clustered around the homeless camps. In other research conducted on the local homeless they discovered 21% had severe mental illnesses and another 23% suffered substance abuse.
Their homework paid off. When clean-ups took place, they happened in the context of a much more rigorous collaborative process. What did they do?
• They created referral programs to mental health agencies, alcohol treatment programs, shelters, and jobs programs.
• They connected homeless people with family and obtained funding to reunite them.
• They worked with civil rights groups to draft an ordinance prohibiting camping on public property when social strategies failed.
• They met weekly with homeless, service providers, civil rights leaders, and homeless advocates.
In their report they say the team has worked with "nine shelter agencies, 11 food providers, 6 mental health care providers, and a number of other agencies providing medial treatment, drug and alcohol treatment, clothing and other services."
Over the past year there have been only 29 felony arrests and about 80 minor arrests. Concurrently, of 500 people living in tents, 229 families have been sheltered in better living arrangements, 117 people were reunited with family, 100 people were successful finding jobs, and 40 clean-ups of camps around Colorado Springs were completed.
I've mentioned before the problem of displacement. Because they were able to help with social service referrals and family reunifications, they managed to minimize displacement
Incidents and problems have diminished and police related calls for service have declined.
Congratulations to the Colorado Springs community and it's police department.