“Good Neighbour Agreements” may sound like friendly and harmless arrangements for community living, but what’s behind their seemingly innocent names?
In Victoria, “Good Neighbour Agreements” (GNAs) have been in place since 2007, when anxious property owners and public school management learned that a handful of services for homeless and street-involved people would be opening their doors in the Pandora Green neighbourhood.
GNAs are agreements that service providers have been forced to sign with residents’ associations, police, the City, local businesses and public institutions. In Victoria, they have meant that service providers promise to police the people they serve in order to make the more privileged, housed neighbours feel more comfortable.
The GNA that was signed in Pandora Green, for example, forces service providers to “manage social issues to reduce or eliminate their impact on the immediate community.” By “social issues”, the GNA means the “individuals drawn to the area gathering on sidewalks and boulevards, camping in doorways, openly using and selling drugs, and engaging in vandalism and theft.”
Service providers have to move people on from the places they feel safe, clean surrounding public spaces, remove graffiti, “deal with” people that property owners see as “threats” and call the police as soon as any issues arise.
What’s the end result? The neighbourhood that is home to the few remaining services that poor people can use is also a neighbourhood where the most vulnerable, marginalized people feel unwelcome.
Understanding Good Neighbour Agreements is important for Downtown Eastside residents because the Gastown Business Improvement Association has proposed to the Local Area Planning Committee that a Good Neighbour Agreement be implemented for the DTES.