'City of Gardens: The Other Side of the Fence' is the premiere issue of a five book series titled, "The City of Gardens Collection.'
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The City of Gardens:
The Other Side of the Fence
Patrick J. Schnerch
“The City of Gardens Collection” is a series consisting of five books each documenting one year of real time. “City of Gardens: The Other Side of the Fence” is the premiere edition detailing how mental illness, addiction and homelessness affect Victoria, B.C. Canada. On the other side of the fence, you have the city trying to eradicate these conditions and this book explains how they plan to do this.
The goal of this series is to provide awareness and knowledge of these conditions in order to reduce discrimination and stigmatism. Secondly, I want to provide the facts about these conditions and situations so that society can make the necessary decisions based on facts rather than speculation and fear.
In the next five years, Victoria will be going through some drastic changes. Without the support of the people, these changes will meet strong opposition. The success of any project proposed will be jeopardized when challenged by the people. This awareness is provided in this book series.
There are other challenges that the city is facing and one of them is financing and the other is Federal support. Perhaps the biggest concern is getting the approval of the people. This is my mission in the next five years. I want the city to be successful in addressing and correcting these social concerns.
“City of Gardens: The Other Side of the Fence starts off with a brief description of what the problems are and the dilemma of what we going to do about it. Next, I give some facts and figures detailing the scope of the problem. It then describes the city’s plan and expectations for the next five years.
I wanted to really get a feel from the street’s perspective of what is going on for these people. I interviewed several of Victoria’s most vulnerable to piece together an overview picture of what is happening.
The book examines the possibility something else may have motivated the initiation of such a huge project rather than a humane gesture. I conducted interviews with some colorful and well known people of the city to get their reaction. The views are diverse from being optimistic to being radical.
I continue explaining the situation showing that our actions may be too little, too late. After decades of neglect, only now is something happening. Society has been overlooked as a required support to the success of this project. When other projects are introduced by the city, they will be met by emotional opposition.
The project starts to gain a solid foothold and looks optimistic that it might even work. Governments and society are using primitive and inhumane tactics dealing with drug addiction. These tactics are out of date and do not work in today’s society.
I stress the utmost urgency that government and society must act now. There is a section which records the events in the Province and city that are influential to our existence.
Will the Province be successful in changing our situation or will the world turn on us with shame? The city can learn from other cities and countries who dealt with these problems already. The successes and failures must be studied.
Surprisingly, the project had some major victories and accomplishments in its early stages of the plan. Unfortunately, it almost grounded to a halt. By looking downtown, there has been little to no notable change so far.
Our prehistoric views of these conditions are jeopardizing the success of this project. We must change our way of thinking if we are to survive the future. The tourists are overwhelmed by the negative influences they saw on our streets. They and their friends are warning others to avoid Victoria as a holiday destination.
Victoria, B.C. in Canada is known for its picturesque scenery, warm weather and great shops. It is a politician’s and policymaker’s dream come true. The Victoria Downtown core is also known for its mentally ill, addicts and homeless people. This is a good place for them to congregate in business doorways and alleys of this great city.
There are 1,242 homeless people in the Capital Regional District, as counted in February 2007. Of the 815 surveyed, 48% were reported to be active in their addiction. 42% stated they had a mental illness and 27% said they had both.
The homeless population growth is at 30%, compounded each year by inadequate housing stock and support. This number can double by 2010. Is this a coincidence? With the Winter Olympic Games coming to Vancouver in 2010, it seems that all three levels of government are in a big huff to clean up the streets for the tourists and visitors. Mental illness, addiction and homelessness have been overlooked for decades. Why the big panic now?
This has been a crisis situation for years and nothing was done. There were facility closures, budget cuts and lack of funding for the mental health and addiction field. It seems that this new action is not a humane decision, but about dollars and cents. There is a fast-tracked plan for a “Safe Downtown” strategy. Already one prominent panhandler may face jail time for his “in your face” style of begging.
The mayor’s project of providing housing and support for 1,550 homeless people within 5 years has already placed 177 of the most vulnerable in homes. The “Housing First” philosophy seems to be nothing much more than sweeping the dirt under the carpet. Removing them from the downtown core and relocating them into someone else’s backyard seems to be a familiar pattern.
Downtown Victoria is becoming safer, but for who? Is it for us or the tourists with their fat wallets? The mayor’s plan is supposed to be providing additional support to those being placed in housing. This is a tall order. “Wet” housing causes a lot of trouble. How do you expect a hardened drug addict or alcoholic to change their ways because an offer is on the table? This just relocates the problem to a particular address.
It takes a lifetime of determination and hard work to beat addiction. A number of these people are not interested or able to make those choices at this time. With this housing project, many are incapable of maintaining themselves or a home that is unsupervised. One may expect discarded drug paraphernalia, garbage and an increased crime rate in the neighborhood. There may be an increased rate of emergency services to these buildings, possibly increased loitering and vandalism.
This support will have to be in-depth, guiding these people on a one on one basis. Support workers will have very busy schedules keeping up with demands at these complexes. There will be (ACT) Assertive Community Treatment to ensure that these people have their needs met. Outreach programs and out-patient care are essential to the plan’s success.
It costs the taxpayer over $50,000.00 per homeless person in the Capital Regional District for one year of related services. It is cheaper to house and support a mentally ill, addicted, and homeless person than it is to do nothing. In Canada it costs $14.4 billion a year on mental illness and is over 18 billion if you add addiction.
In the period of 40 months, there have been 23,033 police encounters. In the Greater Victoria Area, over twenty service providers have spent an estimated $76 million annually on mental illness, addiction and homelessness. By not addressing these issues, we are at least spending $62 million in other services such as policing, prisons, hospital services, emergency shelters, clean up, etc.
The cost of services for this marginalized group is 33% higher than housing and providing support. This has been known since 2001 and nothing has been done about it until now. If funds were redirected to the appropriate areas, the cost of related services would decrease.
92% of our prison population is mentally ill. Half of them have addiction problems. They are warehoused in prison because there are no medical facilities available to accommodate them properly. Most offences would never had been committed if they were treated medically as an out-patient for drugs, alcohol and mental illness.
They are being punished for the results of a medical condition. These prisons are ill equipped or trained to handle them properly. When an inmate becomes disgruntled or unresponsive to orders due to illness, they are put in solitary confinement. There, they become depressed, psychotic or suicidal.
The housing project is needed and is welcomed by those in the mental health, addictions and housing of the homeless, but stops short of public applause. Much of society does not understand the cost effectiveness of housing and support of these people. Many people feel cheated that they have to work very hard to keep the homes they have and put food on the table. Yet handouts are given to drug addicts and alcoholics who self–induced their situation, and just have to sit on the street with their palm out and receive a home.
This does anger a lot of people who ask why they should work if they can receive similar benefits for doing nothing. We must provide awareness that this plan is not only cost effective in saving millions of dollars; it will also have many benefits for all Victorians to gain in other related areas of service. The streets will be safer and more pleasant to use even at night. Although the question why now bothers people, at least it is being taken care of in an assertive fashion. We are in crisis and the time for action is now.
Many of the reports that the mayor received did not include the prison system statistics for it seems that government still supports this form of discrimination against the mentally ill and/or addicted. It is easier to charge and incarcerate them for petty offences than to treat them for their addiction. Until now, there have been many obstacles in trying to receive treatment for mental illness and/or addiction. There are no bulletin boards or advertisements of these services.
Many people do not know they exist unless they are already in the system. They are hidden usually away behind unmarked office doors. For those who are not in the system, finding help is most difficult especially for those on the street.
We are only the third city in Canada to adopt such a plan to house and support those in need. Recently in the paper, it was reported that we may see a significant jump in taxes next year due to the social concerns of the city, including hiring 19 new guns and batons to cure a medical condition. Out-patient services would ease concerns on the street related to mental illness and/or addiction by administering prescribed medication and professional services. Happy and content people don’t use drugs or alcohol.
Outreach programs will become the way of the future to support people with these conditions. There are a few specific groups with outreach programs right now which are proving to be more effective than office visits. The aid is directed to the street where the people are. They meet on their turf and provide personal support tailored to their specific needs. This aid is directed straight to the heart of the matter.
One in ten people will suffer mental illness at least once in their lifetime. That means that there are high chances that someone in your family or social circle suffers from one or both conditions. Mental illness and/or addiction affect all of us either directly or indirectly. Whole communities are overwhelmed by these growing conditions.
It is in our best interest to invest in our community and solve this problem at the roots. It seems that the mayor’s office wants a permanent solution to this situation, and is not just looking for a way of controlling it. It has to be an assertive, and yet a workable plan. He wants to house and support 1,550 people within 5 years. With over 200 service providers related to these conditions, they are working hard establishing and extending programs to accommodate this new influx into the system.
With the past closures of facilities for mental illness, the policymakers have recanted and are in the process of reopening Riverview. Hopefully, they will do the same for the others. The demand is there, it was a foolish move to close them in the first place. The system was being depleted to bare bones.
Finally, for reasons unknown, they are switching to high gear and addressing the problems that have been haunting us for decades. Mental illness and/or addiction are a social concern. It will take efforts from all three levels of government, service providers and the public to make the plan work.
We will all benefit from these efforts economically, socially and with service efficiency such as emergency rooms, detox and policing. The problem is to gain the support of the public. They must be made aware that this is their problem too, even if they are not affected personally.
Melissa Levine / Independent Book Reviews
Book Review / Melissa Levine
3/7/2009 9:25:26 PM
City of Gardens: The Other Side of the Fence
Patrick J. Schnerch
Patrick J. Schnerch, the author of the Peaceful Warrior, a memoir about his struggles with mental illness and addiction, has written a new book about the plight of the homeless in Victoria, British Columbia. In City of Gardens: The Other Side of the Fence, Schnerch discusses the lifestyles of the homeless and delves into the mental illness and addiction that runs rampant among this population. The author describes the lack of assistance available to the homeless in Victoria and the action that has been taken and that is still needed to solve the problem of housing and treatment.
Schnerch reports that there are over 1200 homeless living in Victoria’s Capital Regional District, the seat of government. “With the Winter Olympic Games coming to Vancouver in 2010, it seems that all three levels of government are in a big huff to clean up the streets for the tourists and visitors (5).” According to the author, the solution for the homeless problem proposed by the mayor of Victoria is to provide housing for a significant number of the homeless before the games occur.
The life of the homeless in Victoria is thoroughly described. Profiles of four people with unstable housing or no housing at all are included to put flesh on the statistics that are presented throughout the book. Schnerch discusses various housing options used by the homeless including temporary housing, couch-surfing, and tent cities. Drug use due to addiction and the self-medicating of mental illness are also addressed.
While the author includes valuable information from experts in the field such as the CEO of a pending residential addiction program, a journalist who reports on the marginal members of the Victoria community, and an activist who runs a local newspaper, the book does have some deficiencies. Schnerch has filled the pages with statistics about the percentage of homeless people who are mentally ill and/or addicted to drugs and alcohol, the availability of affordable housing and treatment, and how large and quickly the homeless population will grow; but there are no bibliographical references included in the book. The inclusion of references would have added considerably to the credibility of the book.
City of Gardens is an enlightening text on a problem that is growing in all parts of North America. Schnerch’s effort to bring light to the issue in his corner of the world displays a passion for people who have suffered with mental illness and addiction as he has. It is an honorable attempt to inform and educate his community and society at-large.
Independent Professional Book Reviewers
Allbooks Review City of Gardens
4/4/2009 6:59:21 AM
Emily-Janes Hills has reviewed 'City of Gardens, The Other Side of the Fence.'
Genre: Special Interest
Title: City of Gardens: The Other Side of the Fence
Author: Patrick J. Schnerch
Society cannot give up on people for what they did in the past; it is what they do today that counts.
The statistics are staggering. It is a societal disease that many choose to ignore until a face-to-face encounter with the sad reality. The numbers have no face, no personality; the numbers are just that, numbers. There is Ray, who was raised by a single mom and tried to ease her despair by earning money through crime. He is not homeless; but his life of crime and his dependence on alcohol forces him to change addresses frequently. Then there is Doug, who was kicked out of his family home at a young age and quickly became a juvenile delinquent. At 63, his dependence on alcohol has forced him to a life primarily on the streets. There is also Renée, who is a product of a social system gone sour. As a First Nations child in a Catholic foster home, she was regularly sexually abused by a family whose so-called Christian values had promised to protect and nurture her. Now, she dulls the pain of her past memories through drugs and alcohol. These are just some of the faces of the over 1500 homeless and unstably housed people in the tourist haven known as the City of Gardens. And the numbers continue to climb at a phenomenal rate of 30%!
Victoria’s problem is monumental. Its warm weather makes life on the streets more endurable than in many other cities across the country. The city prides itself in its beautiful scenery, picturesque gardens, unique gift shops and cozy little tearooms. Its pristine, ‘more English than the English’, stiff upper lip prefers to look the other way at the sight that now dominates the city core. The other side of the fence is not so rosy. The preference of the majority of Victoria’s population is to ignore the problem of the rising number of street people in the hopes that it might just disappear. It is the same across the country; it is like genocide of our society. What one refuses to see and accept as fact can, and is, just as easily ignored! But we cannot ignore this problem forever.
Patrick J. Schnerch’s ‘City of Gardens: The Other Side of the Fence’ is a blunt statement of society’s forgotten soul. It is a thorough sociological study of the twenty-first century’s most ignored problem. An active member of the Victoria Human Exchange Society, Schnerch is an advocate for society’s forgotten and neglected population. The author can speak honestly on this subject, as many of the people in his studies are facing the same battles of mental illness that has haunted his own life. Schnerch has written many articles on these troubling topics. His first book, The Peaceful Warrior: Memoirs of a Damaged Mind and Soul, is a revealing look into the life of a troubled mind. Schnerch is also the author of the crime novel, Adrian.
‘City of Gardens: The Other Side of the Fence’ is a thorough and insightful study of a serious problem that plagues every major city in North America. ‘City of Gardens: The Other Side of the Fence’ is highly recommended by: Emily-Jane Hills Orford, Allbooks Reviews.
Available at: Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Title: City of Gardens: The Other Side of the Fence
Author: Patrick J. Schnerch
Price: $15.75 CDN
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