Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Reducing homelessness - An Australian example (Part 1)

The future of homelessness is in our hands - photo courtesy of Tiny Homes Foundation

By Mateja Mihinjac

In 2008 the Australian Government released its first White Paper on homelessness in which it announced a plan to cut homelessness in half and house all rough sleepers (a British term for those sleeping in the street) by 2020. Seeing little progress, the leading Australian charities have jointly committed to reaching this goal by 2025.

However, one of the major reasons behind homelessness is rarely discussed - housing affordability.


Australia is one of the world’s wealthiest nations and it seems unacceptable that it cannot provide affordable housing to all citizens when a sizable number of homes remain unoccupied. Yet, in 2016 the number of those experiencing homelessness in Australia on any given night was estimated at 105,000.

Exact homeless figures are always difficult to estimate, but this amounts to around 0.45% of the Australian population, a national figure that has remained relatively stable since 2011. For comparison, England’s estimates are around 275,000 (0.5% of population) while the US estimates 564,708 (0.2% of population).

To make matters worse, concentrated homelessness has increased in major city downtown areas in spite of a slight downward trend around the world.

Rising numbers of homeless people are concentrated downtown  


The homeless frequently occupy public spaces of city centers which offer them safety and access to resources. Yet, as with other cities around the world like Denver and Miami, some Australian cities employ social cleansing by removing homeless groups or banning homeless camps as bad for tourism even though homelessness is not illegal.

For example, the Melbourne Mayor has recently announced a proposal for a complete ban of rough sleepers in the city. These practices displace the homeless to peripheries of cities, pushing them farther away from much-needed services thereby reducing their prospects of ever resolving homelessness. We can do much better!

Next blog – tiny homes and other solutions.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Til it happens to you - Sexual violence on campus

Bystander intervention videos help provide prevention guidelines 

by Tarah Hodgkinson

There were six educated, relatively privileged, Canadian women sitting at that table. And yet not one of us was free from the experience, or the fear, of victimization, especially on university campuses.

Last year I attended a Take Back the Night event with several women in downtown Vancouver. We took over the streets protesting women’s inequality and violence against women. A few of us gathered for dinner beforehand and began to discuss the issue of victimization and sexual assault. Soon the stories about each individual’s experience, the experience of her friends, her sisters, her cousins, her colleagues and other women came to light.

I realized how many of my female counterparts had been sexually victimized in one way or another and how much of this seemed to happen in and around our undergraduate degrees.


Recently Mateja blogged here about safety and prevention in elementary schools. We also need to discuss sexual assaults occurring across North American college and university campuses every day. Until recently little attention has been paid to this issue.

CBC News has tried to gather data on campus sexual assaults across Canada. They found that over 700 women had reported in the last few years, but this fails to acknowledge that more than 65% of women do not report sexual assault to officials. This is not surprising considering less than one percent of reported cases result in formal action.

Several schools in Canada also reported no sexual assaults in spite of the fact that research indicates almost 40% of women over the age of 16 have experienced sexual assault.

Comedic videos offer another way to humanize sex assault statistics 

Unlike the U.S., who has passed a federal law that all universities must report ALL crimes on campus, Canadian colleges and universities are not required to publish reported crimes like the number of sexual assaults.

Several universities across Canada have surveyed students and drafted new sexual assault policies in the wake of recent high-profile cases. But far too little is being done on the prevention side. While some universities have developed poster campaigns or coffee cups messages to draw awareness to the issue, few seem to have any active prevention policies.

Universities may claim that it is not their responsibility to address prevention and that the police or other agencies have that responsibility. However, the U.S. Department of Justice found that college-aged women (18-24 years of age) have the highest risk of sexual victimization of any group of women.


Prevention can involve many things. Many argue that first we need to change rape culture and they are correct. However, these strategies will take time and in that time women are being victimized.

Some steps are already occurring. At Western University in London, Ontario, there is a dedicated CPTED expert who reviews buildings and grounds for potential crime opportunities. In Quebec, Bishop's University requires sexual violence prevention training for all incoming first-year students. The University of Toronto also offers something similar.

Several other universities across the country offer blue-light posts/poles in public areas that allow potential victims to hit a button and speak with security or notify them of their whereabouts. Others offer walk-home services, in which a male and female volunteer will walk a student home late at night.

Campus student patrols - a fixture at many universities

Some action has been taken, but these strategies are merely band-aid solutions. If universities are extensions of our neighborhoods, perhaps we need to create places where this conversation can be expanded further? For example, on university campuses many women’s centers exist, yet there are no centers for men.

Many criticize men’s centers by claiming that all places are men’s places but these centers could be headed by trained feminist men, in partnership with women’s centers, who can encourage nonjudgmental and open conversations about proper consent, among other things.

A non-university example of this kind of culture jamming center called the Dude's Club, already exists in Vancouver. This may be a better way to change the cultural narrative by creating a safe space to learn to act differently in public spaces.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Japanese solution to gun crime

Tokyo from the top of the SkyTree - World's largest city - photo by Yokalica (C) 
                                                         Creative Commons license

by Greg Saville

There is a remarkable story in today’s Guardian newspaper titled “How Japan has almost eradicated gun crime”. It says in 2014 Japan had “just six gun deaths compared to 33,599 in the US.”

Six gun deaths? In the entire country of 130 million people? The US averages 10 gun deaths per 100,000 persons (both felonious and accidental). Canada is less than 2. The UK and Australia under 1. Japan's number is so low it doesn’t register!

Ah, say the naysayers, that may be six gun deaths but you cannot compare the two countries! Raw population size alone accounts for the difference! Right?

Nope. Both countries have large populations: Japan is the 10th most populous country and America the 3rd. At 130 million, Japan is just under half the US population of 325 million.

Ah, say the naysayers, there are lots of other reasons why you can't compare.

Let's consider them...


Does the US have more poverty?  Nope! The US reports its relative poverty rate at 13.5%. Japan posts its relative poverty rate at 16%.


America is far more diverse and Japan is far more culturally homogenous. True, that probably leads to shared social attitudes about non-violence in Japan. But it is a fact that most American urban violence is not between different racial groups but rather within them (a truism ignored by fact-free politicians).


Perhaps American history, with a civil war and multiple overseas wars, fuels a culture of violence? Nope, Japan isn't that different! Consider Japanese militarism following the Meiji Restoration, the Sino-Japanese wars, the Russian-Japanese War, and of course WW2.


Perhaps there are more frustrated people who live in dense American cities and that drives them to crime (the US is 81% urban)?  Nope! Japan is 78% urban and the world’s largest city - Tokyo - is one of the densest and most urban in the world. It is also among the safest.


The latest in criminology is to explain global crime declines via increases in security technology, DNA fingerprints, predictive policing, CCTV computer algorithms, etc.

Nope, that doesn't work either. DNA fingerprinting works after a crime, not before. It might get a chronic offender off the streets. But given DNAs investigative scarcity around the world, claiming it accounts for crime declines stretches the logic gap to Grand Canyon proportion. Predictive policing has not been around long enough to register on statistical radar screens.

And CCTV? Every time I turn on the nightly news I watch an "exclusive report" of a robbery "caught on tape"? If CCTV is so great cutting crime, why do gun robberies keep showing up on the nightly news? Obviously, research on CCTV effectiveness is spotty.

Security tech isn’t the answer.


John Hancock Observatory Night View
Chicago had over 700 homicides in 2016
- photo by allen McGregor (C),  Creative Commons license 

Stats are hard to come by, but rough estimates suggest there are 1.4 million gang members in the US and 100,000 Yakuza in Japan. That’s a whopping difference of .4 to .07 percent of each country’s population respectively (almost 6 times as many criminal gang members per capita in the US).

The gang theory makes some sense since Yakuza are not only fewer in number but far more disciplined than their US counterparts. But the obvious explanatory elephant in this room is simple. Guns!


After years of blogging about mass murder, guns and gangs in places like Orlando, Connecticut, Los Angeles, and too many others, I’m not going to harp on gun control or the long-proven crime causation theory behind it. For clear thinkers, it is study-laden and it is obvious. It is also a theory well understood in places like Canada, Australia and especially Japan.

So the American carnage continues. Yesterday there was yet another mass shooting on US soil by a madman triggered by “voices” (said the FBI). This latest mass murder was a lone gunman at the Fort Lauderdale airport and in 80 seconds he shot and killed 5 and injured 11. That is more than all those killed by guns in Japan for an entire year.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Force for change

Dawn or dusk in 2017? 
We’re told it’s been a terrible year.

Proof: The Force left Princess Leia! The death of the Princess, or rather Carrie Fisher’s passing four days ago, was one of many sad events in 2016 that might easily get lost in the cacophony of civil wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, political unrest, and environmental decline. 

With that backdrop our fictional Leia was a symbol of hope against evil and bedlam - just the kind of dystopian pap we’re fed by the popular media and the pundits who feed on it. The truth (uncomfortable as it is with simplistic drivel) is more nuanced, at least from a crime perspective. In fact, in much of the developed world, this year was unexceptional for crime. 

Except for an explosion of gang violence in Chicago, crime continued its decades-long decline. There was a slight uptick in a few cities this year (Boston had 46 murders this year compared to 40 last year), possibly a symptom of cartel-fuelled opiates and heroin on city streets. Still, most cities reported stable or lower crime rates.


New York City had 4% fewer homicides, putting the lie to the idea that crime is rising due to the Ferguson Effect. In fact, New York's 330 murders this year are pale compared to 2,260 in 1990.

NYPD anti-terror officers - the new reality of police departments in 2017
Murders in Montreal declined to 19 this year while (as in the US) a few Canadian cities did have slight crime blips. Yet on whole the 2016 crime story is uneventful. 

So what of the headline bedlam? Maybe it’s the global story that bleeds?


It is true that narco-crime continues to torture too many places, especially Central America. But consider the UN Millenium Development Project. Over the past decade project success is staggering: 
  • People with access to better drinking water - up from 76% to 91%  
  • New HIV infections - down 40%   
  • Mortality rate from malaria - down 58% 
  • People in poverty living on $1.25 a day - down from 50% to 14% 
  • Undernourished people - down from 23% to 13%
Ill-informed politicians tout the mantra of gloom and social doom but they are not the brightest lightsabers in the galaxy. No doubt 2016 has seen tragedy, yet there are great things underway. With condolences to our beloved Princess, the Force of positive change is with us if we choose it. 

Here’s to 2017. Happy New Year!