Pivot Legal Society - Equality Lifts Everyone


The world is run by those who show up (vote this Saturday!)


There is nothing that focuses the mind more quickly than being put on the spot. It happened to me about the top election issue this year: homelessness and affordable housing.

Last Sunday I joined a team of volunteers tasked with getting the vote out in the upcoming municipal election. Our instructions were simple: knock on doors and kindly remind people to vote. Statistically only 30% of Vancouverites voted in the last municipal election and both the main parties running in Vancouver know that the one that gets out their base support has a greater chance of winning more seats and thus implementing their policies.

Fellow-volunteer Anna-Louise and I were walking around a neighbourhood stradeling Vancouver’s East Side and West Side on a cool but beautiful day. Snow was on the mountains and red, orange and yellow leaves were on the ground as we went from house to house, knocking on doors and buzzing apartments. On the 100 block of West 16th, we buzzed a man who said,  “I haven’t decided who to vote for – do you want to come up and explain a few things?”

We got to the top floor of the apartment building. It was one of those long 1950s-style ones with long corridors and red and gold patterned carpets. His apartment was at the end and when we met him at the door we asked him about his greatest concern in Vancouver right now? He said, “the terrible state of housing provided by slum landlords.”

Wow – this is one issue I know about, I thought.  Working at Pivot since 2005 I knew that while homelessness has not been solved yet in Vancouver, there has been a marked difference since 2008. I explained how that before the last election Pivot was regularly defending people who were being evicted from or were living in substandard SRO buildings. While this still happens, before the last election Pivot had to sue the City to get actual by-laws enforced to protect tenants in the SRO buildings. There was even a time in early 2008 when Pivot was suing the City because it was not enforcing these by-laws that city employees were instructed to refuse any direct contact with Pivot Legal Society.

Since the 2008 election the City has deployed, for the first time in its history, legal injunctions on landlords of Downtown Eastside single-room occupancy hotels. The enforcement of these by-laws requires slumlords to fix and maintain their building and protect tenants.

The number of people sleeping on the streets has also been reduced. After the last election the City introduced funding for the emergency HEAT Shelters, which brought hundreds of people in off the streets. These new low-barrier shelters allowed more flexibility and attracted people with shopping carts and pets who may have otherwise avoided the shelter system. Since that time the City has provided shelter beds to more than 500 people that were sleeping outside.

There is much more work that needs to be done to address the issues of affordable housing and homelessness. Shelters are not homes, and all of those people in shelters need permanent social housing.  If the annual homeless count numbers include people living in the shelters, homelessness is down by just over 100 in the past year, but there are still more than 1,600 homeless.

The City of Vancouver needs to apply more pressure on the other levels of government to help solve homelessness. As Megaphone Magazine quite rightly points out in this week’s issue: “Although city governments don’t have the funding to actually build social housing, they do control the land. So council can require a developer to set aside a certain percentage of a new building’s units for affordable housing. And they can offer land to the provincial government to build social housing (which both Vision and the NPA before it have done).” 

Ivan Drury from the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council, interviewed last week on the Pivot Podcast, said that City Hall should buy up 10 sites a year for five years and then persuade the Provincial government to build proper housing. This would provide enough housing to replace all the SROs in the Downtown Eastside. He states that SROs are only a room, with a shared bathroom for up to 25 residents and no kitchen and until the mid 1990s were even included in the homelessness count as they were not considered proper housing.

After going through my thoughts on the housing situation in Vancouver with the prospective voter, we were on our way to do more door knocking. My only hope being that I had persuaded him to vote.

I hope you will vote too.