Monday, October 5, 2009

Proposal forcing homeless into shelters causes controversy in Vancouver

In January I will head to Vancouver, Canada to work for NBC's TODAY Show during the Winter Olympics.  After a fabulous summer with TODAY in New York, I am ecstatic to be joining them once again.

I've never been to Vancouver, but have been reading the Vancouver 2010 Blog to stay updated on what is going on in preparation for the games.  After reading a post titled, "Homeless to be jailed for Olympics?" I decided to read the article attached.     

The article is from The Globe and Mail and is titled, "B.C. wants to force homeless into shelters in extreme weather." My first thought: OK, not as harsh sounding as "jailed" but after reading the article and the comments from the public, I realized many in Vancouver were not pleased with this potential legislation. 
A homeless person sleeps on a Vancouver street as the temperature 
dips well below freezing in this December, 2008, file photo. 
Lyle Stafford for The Globe and Mail
The legislation would allow authorities in British Columbia "to compel homeless people to go to shelters or even jail during extreme cold- or wet-weather periods."  The Olympics will be from February 12 to 28, typically a chilly time in Vancouver.  David Eby, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, feels that the problem of homelessness has been ignored for seven years, and now that the Olympics are around the corner, Housing Minister Rich Coleman is trying to change things.

The law would essentially give police officers the authority to force homeless people into shelters during extreme weather, constituted by "low temperatures or extensive rain."  Although I would guess people sleeping on the streets would be happy to escape the cold, the article points out "the Charter of Rights issue of whether you can force into a shelter someone who chooses to stay out on the street."  Technically, people have a right to stay on the streets if they so desire.

Homelessness is a problem in many cities, including Mizzou's home, Columbia, MO.  Sometimes I wish I could offer the people curled in a ball on the sidewalk a place to sleep.  The article does a good job of raising both sides of a controversial issue.  Yes, it seems fair that a city should be able to offer a place for their citizens to sleep, but is it too forceful for the officials to be able to jail them?  The article left me with questions about crime in Vancouver.  Do the homeless contribute to crime rates?  Are they causing any problems in the city, or just taking up room?

The proposed bill is an "exposure bill," or a bill that will be tabled until responses are gathered from people in the community.  The article points to several issues that could raise controversy, such as police liability and ensuring citizens' rights are upheld, which is why British Columbia's Housing Minister, Rich Coleman, has his work cut out for him in the coming months.  Although Coleman says the proposal has nothing to do with the upcoming Olympics, people have questioned the timing of the announcement.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


On Wednesday I anchored the morning cut-ins during the breaks of NBC's TODAY Show.  Here they are:

How do you like my new blue jacket?  Is it sad that I now get more excited about buying a great pant suit than anything else? 

Safety, efficiency encouraged in trash pickup proposal

Finding a story that affects people emotionally is difficult, and oftentimes that is what I look to do.  But, I have learned that a good story is not always about making people laugh or cry, it is about informing.  I stumbled upon a "Trash Pickup Survey" on the city website for Kirksville, MO.  After looking through the survey and learning that the city was considering changing to a tiered pricing for trash pickup, I thought it may be something worth investigating.  Plus, people are always concerned about how their wallet will be affected.

So, last week I drove two hours North of Columbia to Kirksville.  I interviewed Brad Selby, the Code Administrator for Kirksville, and the author of the new trash proposal.  I pre-interviewed him in his office so I could get the facts straight before flipping the camera to record.  In the past, I would just record an entire interview, making it difficult to sift through for good soundbites in the editing phase.  Pre-interviewing made it much easier for me during the editing phase, and I took detailed notes during the pre-interview so I could use that information to rephrase questions while I recorded.

After I left Brad's office I went to meet up with Friday's trash collectors.  Kendall Williams is the driver and route manager for Veolia Environmental Services.  He's been collecting trash for 23 years and was full of information.  I tried to narrow my focus with him, too.  I wanted to ask him about his opinion on Brad's proposal.  Essentially, Brad wants to offer two trash cans, a large (96 gallon) and a small (36 gallon) at two different prices.  As my conversation with Kendall went on, I realized he was interested in the proposal because of the safety benefits it would offer his drivers and trash collectors.  The new cans will be able to be lifted automatically into the back of trash trucks.  Currently, residents in Kirksville may have any type of can in the 30-gallon range, but they cannot be lifted automatically into the trucks.  Therefore, drivers have to jump on and off the back to make the collection process efficient.  The new cans would have wheels and handles, but it's the automatic lifting that would make it easier on the drivers.

When I got back to the broadcast lab, I struggled putting into words what I had seen and heard in Kirksville.  My best video was of the trash collectors in action.  I had wonderful sound and pictures; it was morningtime so the lighting was great.  I did not want to just outline Brad's proposal in my package because I did not have video to match.

Instead, I opted to tell the trash story through the eyes of the trash collectors.  I had spoken with a couple residents, but truthfully, none of them seemed to know or care much about their trash system.  When I told them the prices would increase, they seemed to care more, but, since the proposal hasn't passed I had no exact numbers and could only say something to the effect of: "Prices would increase...".

This story taught me the power of finding a good CCC (central compelling character) from which to tell a story through.  If I could show viewers why these new trash cans would be safer for trash collectors, maybe they would be inclined to go to their city's website and take the survey.  As a journalist, that is my job: to give people information so they can make informed decisions. 

Here is my story.  Please, leave your comments below!  
Trash Pick-Up Proposal in Kirksville from Paige Hansen on Vimeo.

While this story is not necessarily exciting, I think it demonstrated to my professor (and myself) that I am capable of being a reporter.  After this story (my third for the class) I have been cleared to work at KOMU-8 as a reporter.  When I found out I was uncontrollably happy, excited, relieved and every emotion in between.  Though I'll be reporting "for real" now, I still want to take with me what I've learned in class: research good story ideas well in advance, give people the time they deserve, and understand the main point of a story.  In class, we technically had a week to turn our stories, but at KOMU we have one day.  With that in mind, I want to be sure I take my foundation from the classroom to the newsroom.  

I will still post all my stories here on my blog, but if you live in Mid-Missouri, be sure to watch KOMU-8 News at 5, 6 and 10.