British Columbia

Vancouver police call for centralized body to co-ordinate services on the Downtown Eastside

Included in the financial arithmetic of the VPD-commissioned report are budgets for things that do not meet the traditional definition of a social safety net, like firefighting and policing, among others. But Chief Adam Palmer says the report provides a useful jumping-off point.

Methodology of VPD commissioned report has been called into question

A line of police officers on a street. They look imposing and authoritative.
Vancouver police officers are seen in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood during enforcement of an order to remove tents on East Hastings Street on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. The force has commissioned a report on the cost of the 'social safety net' in the city. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The message from Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer that Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES) requires a centralized body to oversee, prioritize and coordinate services likely has merit.

However, attaching the conclusion to a report commissioned by his own police force that uses questionable inputs to seemingly overstate costs has many questioning the VPD's motivation.

Entitled Igniting Transformational Systems Change Through Policing, the report by Alberta-based HelpSeeker Technologies estimates that Vancouver's "social safety net" costs $5 billion per year, the equivalent of $7,200 per year for each resident of the city.

Included in the financial arithmetic are budgets for things that do not meet the traditional definition of a social safety net, like firefighting and policing, among others.

Nevertheless, Palmer says the report provides a jumping-off point to make the argument that those in Vancouver's most challenged neighbourhood are worse off than ever and not well served by the many "siloed" entities operating in the DTES.

"I don't want to lose sight of the big picture here with the lack of coordination and the piecemeal approach we've taken to social services in this city," he said. "You've got half a dozen government ministries, a bunch of different departments up at the city, all these non-profits, everybody running around doing different things... and it's clearly not working." 

"Somebody, probably from government, probably at the provincial level, needs to coordinate all these silos," said Palmer. 

'Marketing and communication exercise'

DTES resident Karen Ward says the disputed $5 billion figure is meant to provoke public shock and outrage, while supporting the VPD's argument for funding as it approaches its annual budget request deadline of Nov. 30.

"It's specifically designed to give people these huge numbers to make us forget about other huge numbers and to say that doesn't seem so bad. It's not factual at all. It's marketing and a communications exercise."

Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer says a centralize body is needed to coordinate services on the DTES. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

City of Vancouver Coun. Christine Boyle also pointed to the questionable conclusions in the report. 

"The numbers are incredibly misleading and that's the wrong way to start a really important conversation. I think there are valid concerns about the way the report seems to seek to villainize those serving on the front lines." 

The VPD paid HelpSeeker $149,000 for the report. Company co-founder Alina Turner did acknowledge a number of limitations, caveats and gaps when it comes to the data used for its so-called "social service audit." 

"This report doesn't make the argument that there's a need for more or less police," said Turner. "It talks about the overall system," she said. 

Palmer said police are uniquely positioned to understand what's going on in the DTES because of how frequently they are called there. 

A second report from the VPD entitled Vancouver's Social Safety Net: Rebuilding the Broken was released in draft form because it had already leaked to the media, according to Palmer. 

He said police are still seeking input from stakeholder groups and are recommending the establishment of a steering committee made up of community partners and various levels of government. 

The City of Vancouver confirmed on Tuesday that neither city council nor city administration requested the report be commissioned or directed the VPD to commission it.

"Given the City was not offered an opportunity to provide inputs toward the report's drafting or to review its findings, it would not be appropriate to comment on the report at this time until City staff have had an opportunity to review and validate its findings," said a spokesperson with the city.


Karin Larsen


Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster who covers news and sports for CBC Vancouver.

with files from Joel Ballard


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