Thursday, June 4, 2009

Our NIMBY Dilemma

We live on Commercial Drive. Behind our apartment is an alleyway frequented by dozens of bottle scavengers as well as a growing colony of homeless people and drifters. The colony is lodged under an overhang parking area.

During the winter time, my partner sometimes dropped off hot soup or food for the residents living there. There were only one or two people living there at the time, which made sense considering the cold (read: rainy) and inhospitable Vancouver winters. Now as spring turns to summer, the population of the overhang has grown.

Initially, we didn't have any problem with this. Our homeless neighbours weren't bothering anyone. The minimal increase in garbage around the alley was a pain in the ass, but that was really the only issue.

Then as new folks joined the older residents, things began to change. More scavenging around the area made us feel a bit more self conscious about the possibility of crime in the area. And then there was the noise.

At first it was just a shout here and there. But often it seemed to be party time at the colony with all manner of yelling at 11 PM 12 AM, 4 AM etc. In the afternoons we watched as a white Mercedes cruised around passing out vials to our neighbours. We weren't quite sure why, but this was frustrating.

While we can handle the dealing; the noise is a problem. Neither of us enjoy being woken constantly through the night to loud hooting or screaming arguments.

Ultimately, we'll soon see just how effectively community can transcend income and status. The next time there is a loud flare up (and we aren't too groggy / lazy to get up), we're planning on wandering over to talk to our neighbours. We'll kindly ask if they mind keeping the noise down. We're hopeful that the fact that while drugs and booze may be an issue, the dictum of sharing common community space will prevail. If it doesn't (or if the drugs cloud out neighbourly decency), we'll most certainly find ourselves in a very difficult NIMBY dilemma.

It's a dilemma we don't want to find ourselves in, because the alternative of calling the cops is not appealing at all.


John Horn said...

Amazing connection to the article below. Would affordable housing fix this problem, or are "drifters", by definition, not ones to seek affordable, permanent shelter?

With bureaucracy, apathy, social stigmas, and a spiraling economy crippling our community's ability to properly address these issues, my friend, you will likely have to take ideas into your own hands.

You outline the fantastic combination of food and conversation. I love it. If you need some company heading out into the alley with a pitcher of juice and some cookies, well, I'm there for you. It's also good to have a plan of action to outline for them. So, what steps will you take if, following the conversation and food-offering, the noise and rambunctiousness continues?

Great insight into a thoroughly complex issue, Kurt.


Kurt Heinrich said...

Thanks John. One of the trickiest things about is that some people just aren't interested in shelter. They're living the outdoor/free life and that's how they want it.

Do they have a right to live in common space? I think they do.

In terms of the plan - I think that's a good idea, I just worry that the next step after a couple more visits asking them to keep it down is to call the cops. I really, really, really, don't want to do this and I guess that's why I don't want to include it in the plan.

I mean after all, what are the cops going to do? Will they arrest them or charge them for something?
Who knows.