Municipalities across BC have authority to determine land use and zoning within their jurisdictions. Too often this authority is exercised in a discriminatory and stigmatizing way, which results in the denial of services to marginalized and vulnerable groups.
Bylaws, policies, and processes founded on discrimination play a role in perpetuating homelessness, risk of disease transmission (such as HIV and hepatitis C), overdose, and vulnerability to violence. They limit our collective ability to provide evidence-based health interventions for people with addictions in the midst of a public health emergency, and they result in the failure to provide shelter and housing services for people in need.
(Photo credit: @CanadianPM, National Housing Strategy press conference in Toronto, Nov. 22, 2017)
It was, ostensibly, a major announcement deserving of two simultaneous press conferences across Canada—in Toronto and Vancouver, where the housing crisis has crippled livability and quality of life for thousands struggling with (un)affordability. Alluding to transformative change, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in Toronto, and the Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, in Vancouver, unveiled Canada’s first-ever National Housing Strategy.
This was a hopeful opportunity to articulate and present a coordinated approach between all levels of government (municipal, provincial, federal) to address one of the most pressing issues in Canadian society today: homelessness and poverty. The ambitious plan parcels $40 billion in spending over 10 years with the goal of cutting chronic homelessness by 50%.
(Photo credit: National Housing Strategy, Nov. 22, 2017)
Though a step in the right direction, it falls short on a number of accounts; firstly, the timing: much of money will not beginning to flow until 2021 (after the next federal election). This ignores the cruel reality that people now, at this very moment, are suffering through a homelessness and housing crisis wherein thousands are living dangerously on the streets in the freezing cold without the basics of life. Many may not even survive to 2021 when government largess begins to fund shovels in the ground and mobilize services.
(Photo credit: Peter Kim, Anita Place tent city, Nov. 15, 2017)
We are representing one group of homeless individuals, at Anita Place tent city, who cannot wait three years for support and housing as governments haggle over funding agreements and allocation, which is part of the rationale for delaying the money. But others, see something else in this timeline:
(Photo credit: @drex, tweet, Nov 22, 2017)
Now to the substance of the Plan.
Housing Benefit for Low-Income Tenants
“Launching in 2020, the Canada Housing Benefit will provide affordability support directly to families and individuals in housing need, including potentially those living in social housing, those on a social housing wait-list, or those housed in the private market but struggling to make ends meet,” read the official Plan document.
(Photo credit: National Housing Strategy, Nov. 22, 2017)
This is essentially a rent supplement—money the government provides to help people who are struggling to pay their rent. The government estimates it will deliver an average of $2,500 per year to each recipient household.
But this benefit is contingent on provinces signing on and agreeing to contribute to the funding that will go to help individuals in need. There is no guarantee of financial relief for struggling families; and yesterday, even Ontario’s Housing Minister, Peter Milczyn, was shy on a firm commitment from his province. Premier John Horgan has yet to comment publicly on whether British Columbia will chip in to the funding agreement.
There are strings attached to the federal help. (Joanne Lee-Young, Vancouver Sun)
We also have concerns that with less than one per cent vacancy in major cities like Vancouver and Victoria, this benefit could drive up rents in the lower end of the housing market, leaving thousands who don’t qualify with higher bills. Subsidies, in theory, are beneficial as they afford people a measure of choice in where they live; but absent adequate social housing, a benefit such as this could artificially inflate the lower-end rental market, which would run counter to the spirit of the policy.
100,000 New Housing Units
The National Housing Strategy hopes to create 100,000 housing units through new initiatives like the National Housing Co-Investment Fund and the Canada Community Housing Initiative. This housing will be “sustainable, accessible, mixed-income, and mixed-use,” according to the federal government.
But this target may be too low. The Carnegie Community Action’s Project’s Our Homes Can’t Wait study reveals that British Columbia alone “needs a housing program that builds at least 10,000 units a year in order to meet the real need and end homelessness”.
(Click on graph for interactive data)Read more
(Photo credit: Peter Kim, Raise The Rates press conference, Nov. 1, 2017)
It’s a hollow victory to claim any measure of success in the recent welfare rate increase of $100. Now, someone on welfare receives $710 a month—much of that eaten up by the mandatory shelter allowance of $375 (rent). But good luck trying to find a stable place for that amount.
In a recent report, the Carnegie Community Action Project estimated the average rent in Vancouver for a Single Room Occupancy (SRO)—among the most basic of all living arrangements—was $548. Subtracting that from the monthly spending, leaves only $162 a month for the necessities of life.
Even with a $100 raise to welfare rates to $710 for a single person, it still falls hugely below the poverty line.” Kell Gerlings, Raise the Rates.
Raise the Rates, a coalition of community groups and organizations concerned with the level of poverty and homelessness in BC, factored modest allowances for transportation, personal hygiene, and communications into that $162 dollars and arrived at $79 a month for food (roughly $19 dollars a week). This is a whole $1.00 more a week than before the welfare rate increase.
(Interactive graph)Read more
(Photo credit: www.victoria.ca, Reeson Park, undated)
Apparently, grass and vegetation are more important than the dignity and safety of people who are homeless. That’s the conclusion one could reasonably draw from the absurd bylaw amendment proposed by the City of Victoria—one that would impose time limits on park visitors such that individuals who shelter in parks would be required to uproot and relocate their belongings multiple times each day. While the bylaw change may seem to apply equally to all, the reality is that its enforcement will target homeless people and discriminate against those struggling with poverty.
The proposed change would limit the length of time a person could remain in one location in a public park to six hours. Regulating public space in this manner will force people who are homeless to collect their belongings and relocate multiple times a day—an imposition that is especially difficult for those who carry all of their possessions on their back or in a shopping cart. Even worse off will be those struggling with physical disability and illness. Effectively forcing a vulnerable population into an ever-transient existence exacerbates the harms and challenges they already face braving the elements 24-hours a day.
Currently, people in need of shelter in Victoria can set up a tent in a park and rest overnight provided that they pack up their belongings by 7 a.m.
When people wake up in the morning, all we are asking is that they move at least a hundred metres from the spot that they have camped overnight to allow that piece of earth to kind of revive,” Mayor Lisa Helps told CBC News.
This is the same rationale underpinning so many ill-conceived bylaws that further displace, destabilize, and marginalize an already vulnerable population by forcing them to move every six hours. It assumes homeless people have a place to go and the ability to move there, and betrays a lack of understanding regarding the realities of life on the street.Read more
A change in government after 16 years has presented a unique opportunity to call for significant, systemic reform to British Columbia's ailing justice system—changes that will benefit the most marginalized in society along with Indigenous communities. The recommendations below are categorized into ten main priority areas and have been hand-delivered to BC's Attorney General, David Eby. We look forward to working with government and our supporters to realize this vision for a better British Columbia.
(Photo credit: Peter Kim, Premier John Horgan at NDP press conference, August 2017)
Fifteen years ago, BC’s new Liberal government dealt a debilitating blow to justice and equality when it decided to scrap the BC Human Rights Commission. Our province became the only one in Canada without an independent body dedicated to eliminating systemic discrimination and upholding BC’s Human Rights Code.
Earlier this month, the BC NDP announced its intention to fulfill their election promise to revive the Commission.
“Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of physical ability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” ~ Premier John Horgan
The BC Human Rights Tribunal is responsible for adjudicating human rights complaints brought under the BC Human Rights Code. Whereas the BC Human Rights Commission will work to address systemic patterns of discrimination and prevent violations before they happen. A Human Rights Commission’s mandate would likely include education.Read more
For Immediate Release
June 29, 2017
Vancouver, BC – Residents of Anita Place homeless encampment in Maple Ridge have filed court proceedings against the Province of British Columbia for leaving them with nowhere to go but the streets. BC is in the midst of is an unprecedented homelessness crisis. The 2017 Metro Vancouver homeless count revealed that there are more than 3,600 people homeless in the greater Vancouver area alone.
“On any given night, 35,000 people in Canada will be homeless; thousands will have no other option but to live in parks and other public spaces,” says DJ Larkin of Pivot Legal Society who is representing the campers.
For many, homelessness is an early death sentence. We know that homeless people have about half the life-expectancy as people who are housed. Ensuring that everyone in BC has access to adequate housing is the right thing, the smartest thing, and the cost effective thing to do for all British Columbians.
Despite the BC Liberal government’s promises to address homelessness in Maple Ridge, it cancelled plans to purchase or develop two housing facilities in the municipality. Then on May 31, 2017, the Province closed a 40-bed shelter—the only low-barrier shelter in that area.Read more
Hundreds at risk of homelessness due to city's reckless inaction: Vancouver has ignored rotting conditions in SROs for too long
For years tenants and advocates have been calling on the City of Vancouver to improve the living conditions in some of Vancouver’s most notorious Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels. Today, approximately 200 tenants of the Balmoral learned that instead of protecting them and making their home safe, the City is forcing them out of their homes as of June 12th, 2017.
The Balmoral is owned by the Sahota family, which owns several low-income residential buildings in the Lower Mainland. For decades, the City has been aware of the family’s track record of refusing to maintain their rental properties. The Sahota’s have become very wealthy by taking rent from tenants every month while allowing rodents and bugs to infest the beds and walls. These notorious landlords refuse to fix broken doors and walls, they allow the building structure to rot under tenants’ feet, and they retaliate against any tenant who dares complain.
The Balmoral is not an isolated case. In 2007, 81 tenants lost their homes on only three hours notice to vacate because the City failed to protect tenants against this predatory and abusive landlord. In spite of stagnating income assistance rates, skyrocketing rental costs, and almost non-existent vacancy rates, the City has continued to ignore the rot beneath their nose for years. As a result of the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative (DTES SROC) and Carnegie Community Action Project, whose tireless advocacy has shaken the City out of complacency, City staff have turned their attention once again to the myriad of maintenance violations in Sahota-owned buildings, but it is too little too late.
(Housing protest outside the Balmoral Hotel days before City officials announced tenants would have to leave)
The City claims to be “looking at every possible legal and regulatory tool [they] have available to force the Sahota family to improve the Balmoral.” What they have failed to do, however, is take action under their own authority to complete the necessary maintenance themselves. Vancouver’s Standards of Maintenance Bylaw (SOM) requires that all buildings be “maintained in a structurally sound condition so as to be capable of sustaining safely its own weight and any additional load to which it may be subjected through normal use.” Among many other infractions, this is precisely what the Sahotas—under the City’s watch—have failed to do for years.
So here’s the kicker: the City had the power to fix the Balmoral and ensure that tenants were protected long ago. Under the SOM “where any building or land does not comply with standards set out in this By-law, the Council may, by resolution, order that failure to remedy any default specified in such order within 60 days after service of such order, will result in the work being carried out by the City at the expense of the owner” [emphasis added]. This is a power they have refused to exercise, allowing this building to fall into further disrepair.Read more
On Wednesday, May 17, in a quiet courtroom in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the residents of the Ten Year Tent City fought for their right to survival—sharing stories of how an assembly of tents and the community that grew around it helped save their lives. At times holding back tears, they spoke powerfully about the struggles of being homeless, of the positive changes living in the tent city brought to their lives, and of the despair at the prospect of losing their home.
One woman told the court that residents of the tent city saved her partner’s life when he overdosed. Before finding community at 950 Main Street, the two of them had been living in a forest without access to a cell phone in order to avoid the daily, unrelenting harassment from bylaw enforcement officers and the police. Had the overdose occurred there, in the isolation of nature, she believes her partner would have died. She says he was only alive because tent city residents were trained to administer Naloxone and to keep watch over each other.
Another woman spoke of the unending harassment that follows her as a homeless trans woman—from passersby, from law enforcement, and from shelter workers. The Ten Year Tent City was the only place where the people around her cared enough to intervene when she was harassed. This was the theme echoed in many of the stories: the feeling of safety, security, and community. For others, simply having a safe place to sleep, eat, and live was an enormous relief from the stress and dangers of living on the streets.Read more