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Vancouver mayoral candidates from left to right; Fred Harding, Colleen Hardwick, Mark Marissen, Ken Sim and Kennedy Stewart participate in a town hall hosted by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and S.U.C.C.E.S.S., in Vancouver, on Sept. 7.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Vancouver’s two leading mayoral candidates say the city can’t wait for the province to get around to paying for health services for mentally ill and homeless residents. Instead, they say, local taxpayers will need to pitch in for specialists such as psychiatric nurses or roving counsellors to help that group.

“This is bold action but we can’t wait for the province to come up with something in a few years,” said Ken Sim, whose ABC party has pledged to spend $20-million a year on 100 psychiatric nurses, paired with 100 new police officers, to provide mobile teams able to handle mental-health calls.

Kennedy Stewart, the current mayor, has a different plan, though agreed the city needs to go it alone even if health care is a provincial responsibility.

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“The core versus non-core service debate is moot when you have a whole bunch of demands like we do. Right now, we can jump in and do something,” he said.

In the lead-up to civic elections in British Columbia on Oct. 15, mayors across the province say they’re grappling with concerns about random stranger assaults and increasing numbers of people with severe mental-health problems or drug-use issues acting erratically in public.

On Wednesday, a two-person panel, appointed by B.C.’s attorney-general to look into the mayors’ concerns, issued a report concluding the province must make significant investments into resources to ensure those suffering from addictions and mental-health issues get tailored supports from experts that are not police officers.

“Currently, mental-health-related crisis response in B.C. is primarily left to police and hospital emergency departments – both of which have been shown to contribute to adverse outcomes for people in crisis,” the report says. “We need a broader and more creative set of solutions.”

Mr. Stewart, running with the Forward Together party, is proposing the city create 25 new “counsellor” positions – roving specialists who can be deployed to help out with obvious crises on the street.

He also proposes adding to the city’s existing 311 help line to give residents and even police a place to call to get specialized resources for those in distress. His proposal says that would cost $5-million a year initially, with money to come from an already existing overdose-prevention fund.

Mr. Sim and Mr. Stewart are critical of each other’s strategies.

Mr. Stewart said Mr. Sim’s plan would mean cutting other services and added the city doesn’t have the legal authority to hire health workers or dictate to police how to operate.

Mr. Stewart said his health and addictions response team, or HART, is an initiative based on one in Eugene, Ore.

But Mr. Sim said hiring a mere 25 counsellors, instead of 200 new people for police-nurse teams, is inadequate.

Mr. Sim said the city already hires nurses to work at places such as the city jail, so there is no legal impediment. That group of specialists would be able to provide far more sophisticated help than counsellors, he said.

As well, he said, many nurses who have left hospitals because they are burned out from dealing with only people who arrive in desperate straits would likely be attracted to jobs where they can be out of a hospital and helping people before they’re in complete crisis.

Among the 10 parties and five mayoral candidates running, the move toward wading into funding health services seems to be the dominant view.

Only TEAM and the Non-Partisan Association are more cautious.

The platform for the TEAM party, headed by current council member and mayor candidate Colleen Hardwick, emphasizes that its representatives will be “focusing on programs and services within its core mandate in the most efficient and effective way possible before carefully considering the provision of services outside its mandate.”

In a policy section related to social issues, TEAM’s goals are more focused on creating greater financial efficiency and improved organization than adding new levels of service.

The party says it would do a detailed audit of the Downtown Eastside to determine where resources are going, establishing a single agency to ensure complex needs are met, and creating a full-time Downtown Eastside commissioner to “address the out-of-control social issues that are impacting the health and safety of the community.”

The NPA’s platform, under mayor candidate Fred Harding, emphasizes providing more resources for police, requiring social-service agencies to “come together to review their effectiveness,” and working with other levels of government to get more mental-health workers, with no suggestion of using city money to pay for them.

The fifth mayoral candidate, Mark Marissen, has not pledged extra health resources as part of his campaign. However, Mr. Marissen of Progress Vancouver has supported the idea of creating a managed tent encampment to help reduce public disorder and give homeless people a better place to stay while awaiting permanent housing than on the street. He has said Vancouver needs a more holistic approach to the problem of public disorder that goes beyond simply adding police officers.

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