Brain-injured street people require compulsory treatment

Pivot Legal Society is calling on the B.C. government to stop its proposed expansion of forced mental health and addictions treatment.

image: STAT News

Compulsory treatment must proceed.

I sympathize with the legal society but the reality is that the number of street people that are brain-injured is unprecedented.

Brain Injury Canada has identified that reality. There is a growing prevalence of brain injury due to substance abuse.

“Opioid overdoses can have catastrophic results, including brain injury,” says Brain Injury Canada’s website.  “The effects of the brain injury will change them as well. It’s a scary experience that can be hard to put into words or share with others and can have a huge impact on mental health and wellbeing for both the person with a brain injury and you as a friend/family member.”

Under B.C.’s Mental Health Act, a person can be detained in a psychiatric facility if a physician deems it necessary for their own health and safety and for the safety of others.

When the act was constituted in 1965, no one could have imagined the growing number of British Columbians who would be brain damaged because of the toxic brew of drugs now available.

B.C. Premier David Eby says the province needs to expand the availability of “involuntary care” and to update the Mental Health Act to provide clearer options for intervention.

Under section 28 of the Mental Health Act, police have the authority to bring a person to a hospital to be assessed by a doctor if the police have reason to believe that the person who is suffering from a mental illness is likely to cause harm themselves or others if not treated.

Pivot Legal Society argues that compulsory care is an outdated approach that is harmful, degrading and often discriminatory.

I agree that compulsory care can be discriminatory.  In 2021, I wrote about “A.H.,” a First Nations woman, who was wrongfully detained for almost a year under the Mental Health Act. In a court case between A.H. and the Fraser Health Authority, the Supreme Court of B.C. learned that A.H. had been held against her will and that she was not even found to be mentally ill. She would still be detained if lawyers had not presented her case pro bono.

But the issue has moved from indiscriminate use of the act to the political arena. Now the safety of citizens and business owners has become paramount.  

Kamloops’ Reid Hamer-Jackson was swept into the mayor’s chair over such safety concerns.

Hamer-Jackson campaigned on establishing a recovery centre outside of the city centre and said transportation should be provided so that the homeless could be returned to their home communities. (One-half of Kamloops homeless have lived here longer than six years or are from Kamloops).

B.C.’s premier understands the impact of drug-induced brain injury.

“For every person that fatally overdoses, there are at least three people that are seriously brain injured,” Eby told The Globe and Mail. “And until you’re sufficiently brain-injured to the point of permanent long-term care, then people are being really spat out from the emergency room back into the community. So it’s cruel and it’s a miserable existence.”

The compassionate thing to do is force brain injured street people into treatment.


B.C. municipalities: get out of the way of low cost housing

Kamloops is an exception but too many B.C. municipalities are not approving enough housing for population growth.

Kikékyelc in Kamloops. image: Columbia Valley Pioneer

City councils find all kinds of reasons to stall affordable housing. Too many housing development proposals become stalled at the permit approval stage as local councils deliberate over building heights, parking issues and the character of neighbourhoods.

This is happening as homeless encampments pop up across the province. Rental units are difficult to find, house prices have escalated and thousands of people are arriving in B.C. looking for places to live.

Cities can, and must, have the right to say where housing needs to go, decide where heritage areas exist and where they want growth. “But they shouldn’t be allowed to decide whether or not the housing goes ahead, which is currently where we are,” says David Eby, former Housing Minister and Attorney-General.

“The bottom line is that municipalities are not approving enough housing for our population growth,” said Eby. “I think it’s quite possible that we’re going to need to be more prescriptive. One thing is clear is that the status quo is not acceptable.”

David Eby resigned his posts in July to run for the New Democratic Party leadership. He promises sweeping changes to provincial housing policy, including measures to increase housing density in communities zoned for single family homes.

Other jurisdictions have implemented similar policies to increase housing supply, including California, Oregon, Washington State and New Zealand, where state-level governments recently set minimum targets.

A new California bill would apply to single-family neighborhoods where existing parcels could be split in half. The state has been criticized by officials in some cities as an overreach on decisions that should be left to local communities.

Cities are where the rubber meets the road. Old myths persist. Vocal citizens continue to promote the idea that low-income citizens must not have proper homes because they are lazy, and/or addicted. They are problem on the street, yet homes are not the answer according to this reasoning.

Local politicians are pushed and pulled in two directions. The growing homeless problem is pushing the need for affordable housing. Politicians are being pulled by the fear that the homeless present a safety concern. If affordable homes are built in low-density suburbs, communities will not be safe.

Craig Hodge, a member of the Union of B.C. Municipalities executive and a city councillor in Coquitlam, said the union has been working with the province on housing issues, but Mr. Eby’s comments are a concern.

“My main concern about some of the things the minister is talking about,” said  Hodge, “is making sure that we maintain local autonomy and the decision making process in our communities.”

Autonomy is only a concern when municipalities balk at provincial proposals to increase affordable housing.

Eby’s proposal was discussed at Kamloops’ mayoralty form on Tuesday at TRU. Some candidates echoed concern about autonomy but others expressed a need for affordable housing. Compliance is only a concern when a vocal few in the community voice unreasonable objections to housing in their neighbourhoods.

Kamloops city council has been in agreement with affordable projects proposed by BC Housing.

Most housing built in agreement with the province is notable for the lack of attention they receive. Places like Kikékyelc in Brock for Indigenous youth aging out of foster care. Heard of it?

BC Housing reboot: there’s a lot of catching up to do

Image: BC Housing

BC HOUSING CORPORATION is suffering growing pains and no wonder. After years of neglect in building affordable housing, there ís a lot of catching up to do.

The provincial housing agency’s budget has increased 140 per cent from five years ago to $2 billion. It ís expected to rise to $7 billion in the next decade.

I’m not surprised that BC Housing would require review but the shakeup was dramatic. The government fired the entire board after an independent probe of BC Housing uncovered serious problems.

Not only was the board fired. The CEO of BC Housing, Shayne Ramsay, announced his retirement in a rambling statement. “I no longer have confidence I can solve the complex problems facing us at BC Housing,” he said.

Ramsay added that he’s been watching with growing alarm at violence perpetrated against homeless people. He said “something shifted” for him in May as he watched police converge on a Downtown Eastside park where a man lay fatally stabbed, an incident that occurred just minutes after Ramsay had left the area while walking his dog.

The independent probe by Ernst & Young found the agency had grown exceptionally fast and was handing out multimillion-dollar contracts without rigorous review and no clear documentation for why some contracts were awarded.

Included in the top 10 funding projects in 2021 were Coast Foundation ($10-million); Pacifica Housing ($9.4-million); Affordable Housing ($9.1-million); ASK Wellness of Kamloops ($7.8-Million); and More Than a Roof ($7.5-million).

The probe found two programs in particular as being notable for unclear documentation or criteria for awarding contracts. While the review did not name one of them specifically, Atira is the largest provider of those programs.

The executive directors at Atira were earning substantial wages considering that they are non-profit society.

An investigation by the Globe and Mail found that, according to 2021 Revenue Canada reports, Atira’s top-paid executive was making in the $200,000-to-$250,000 range, while the next two highest-paid staff were in the $160,000-to-$200,000 range.

It’s no accident that there is a shortage of affordable housing. The shortage of affordable rental units is the result of deliberate government policy starting with the Mulroney Conservatives in the 1990s and carried on with the Liberals.

Governments stopped investment in affordable rental units for a number of reasons: strong wage growth from 1996 to 2006 coupled with declining interest rates and modest housing prices enticed more renters into home ownership.

That period also saw a shift in politics in which government off-loaded the building of affordable housing to the private sector.

However, all that changed by the mid-2000s. Stagnant wages and the growth of low paying jobs along with escalating housing prices pushed people out of home ownership and into rentals.

A half-century ago, governments got housing built. The mid-1990s austerity ended all that. Since then, the private sector has failed to meet the needs of low to moderate income earners.

There’s a lot of catching up to do and BC Housing needs to refocus to the task. B.C.’s premier-apparent, David Eby, is determined to get affordable housing done right. His board replacements are competent former deputy ministers and bureaucrats with financial expertise.

It’s time to get B.C.’s housing in order.

BC Housing should value their friends in Kamloops City Council

City councillors support public housing but the recent announcement by the B.C. government took them by surprise. In a press release, BC Housing said that they had purchased the Fortune Motel on Kamloops North Shore.

Fortune Motel, image: Agoda

BC Housing is a crown corporation that finances subsidized housing for low income families.

“What the hell is this?” was a common reaction at City Hall, Councillor Dale Bass told me. The lack of communication represented a “disconnect of our relationship” with the provincial government.

While staff at City hall were apparently aware of the purchase, councillors were not Bass said.

Consultation is needed because Council has plans for the North Shore and BC Housing’s purchases may not fit. Of course, consultation would have to be done in confidentiality since real estate purchases are sensitive.

In a press release, Attorney General and Housing Minister David Eby said that BC Housing and the City of Kamloops will work together to determine a permanent plan for the property. That’s a fine thing to say but just when did BC Housing plan to start working together?

It’s Councillors who take the flak from the public over public housing. Some citizens are “genuinely afraid” of homeless people, Bass said.

Kamloops homeless are often characterized by the actions of “street people” who sometimes appear menacing.

Encounters with mentally ill people can be frightening. A friend of mine was approached by a stranger, apparently in a psychotic state, as she shopped in a thrift store on Tranquille. “You’re going to fucking die, bitch,” he shouted angrily. The verbal assault left her shaken.   

Mental health of homeless people is a problem and it’s exacerbated by their lack of secure shelter. While mentally ill people are more likely to injure themselves than others, that’s little comfort to those are accosted by the unstable mentally ill.

Street people are also blamed for an increase in crime. Yet the perception doesn’t always match reality.

Kamloops RCMP Supt. Syd Lecky told City Council on June 11, 2021, that crime was actually down in some parts of the city compared to last year. Property crime was down in North Kamloops by eight per cent, the same in Valleyview, and up 11 per cent in Westsyde.

But last year was unusual because of the pandemic, Lecky added, and that property crime was up everywhere from 1019.

Homeless people represent a fragile sector of our population.

In a survey done by BC Housing of Merritt’s homeless in 2020, one-quarter reported a brain injury and 70 per cent had two or more health concerns. Seventy-eight per cent suffered from addiction.

In a survey done in Kamloops in June, 2018, one-half of respondents first experienced homelessness as youths. Probably, as in Merritt’s case, many were formerly in foster care.

The profile of homeless people is one of addiction compounded by desperation, mental and physical health. They are often youths thrown out on the streets with few life-skills.

Kamloops doesn’t need a big-stick approach by BC Housing to get affordable housing in Kamloops. Not like that other Interior city, Penticton, where City Council is taking the province to court over a dispute involving BC Housing’s locations.

Kamloopsians sensibly realize that you can’t complain about homeless people on the street while also complaining that they are being housed.

The multi-tent government of B.C.

Big-tent parties are standard in politics but in government, they rule from a small room.


Getting as many voters into your tent ensures a win in the first-past-the-post system. Once elected, a relatively small group will determine the direction of government. A smart leader will pick cabinet members with diverse opinions. An arrogant leader will dictate the agenda.

Site C dam was one of those ideas that should have been halted early once it became obvious it wasn’t needed. Former Premier Christy Clark blindly proceeded with it.

For all who could see, it was doomed.  Even to me, it was obvious. Three years ago, I wrote:

“An independent review of the project found that BC Hydro could supply the province with electricity, without the new dam, with modest growth in LNG production, until 2028.”

Clark forged ahead with Site C dam in the face of calamity, even as markets for LNG collapsed.

Premier Horgan was left with a no-win situation. If he cancelled Site C, he would make the thousands of unionized workers unhappy. If he approved it, it would make environmentalists unhappy. Horgan chose the pragmatic solution. David Eby, B.C.’s Attorney General, explains.

“The strategies of the previous government to avoid oversight and push the project ‘past the point of no return’ with the hope, achieved, of visiting financial ruin on the books of any government that would seek to cancel it, are unforgivable.”

The cost of competing dam, Eby says, was the same as cancelling it; except in the first case you end up with an asset, essentially a mortgage paid over 70 years. Cancelling it would result in a debt, leaving the government with less money to spend on health, schools.

Horgan’s decision was sure to disappoint. You would think his fragile government would be doomed. However, Green leader Andrew Weaver is not keen to take down the government any time soon for two reasons. No one wants another election.

And both the NDP and Greens are eager to see proportional representation (PR) come to B.C. Since minority governments are typical in PR, it’s in the best interests of both the NDP and Green Party to see this government last as a demonstration that minority governments work.

Multi-tent governments can hold opposing views. While the overarching progressive banner would fly over government, different flags can fly over each tent. Pragmatists can huddle in one tent and environmentalists in another, grumbling at the other but placated in the comfort that they share the same basic values of fair wages, poverty reduction, human rights, and equality.

Multi-tent governments are a novelty in Canada. If a faction in one tent feels betrayed, they can vote to be part of the other tent in the next election –essentially an opposition built into government. With a divergence of ideas, the best plan is more likely to prevail.

Had a multi-tent government been in place when the BC Liberals were in power, Site C would probably not have proceeded. Instead, a premier with a big ego and tunnel-vision pushed the plan beyond the point of no return.