(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
Pivot’s work is grounded in the belief that poverty and social exclusion are not inevitable. Through our campaigns, our team focuses on making the possibility of a more just and compassionate society a reality. Our projects evolve from year to year, but our central mandate, to use legal tools and political advocacy to challenge laws and policies that intensify poverty and social exclusion, remains the same.
You can download the report here.
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.
Read or download the rights card below
(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
“Good morning, my name’s DJ, I’m part of a team of volunteers going around to chat with people living outside. Do you want a cigarette?”
And that’s how it begins, the distressingly normalized task of volunteering to count homeless people in Metro Vancouver. Since 2002, cities across Metro Vancouver have been sending out volunteers every three years to enumerate and document a growing crisis. Since 2010, in the face of an avalanche of homelessness, Vancouver has conducted yearly counts.
Despite warnings from Metro-area mayors, few expected triple-digit increases in homelessness throughout Vancouver’s suburbs between 2014 and 2017. Delta saw an increase of 142 per cent; Langley, 124 per cent; and the Tri-Cities (Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody), an increase of 113 per cent.
As with anything, the devil is in the details and statistics can be manipulated to influence policy based on personal agendas rather than evidence. And so, let’s take a closer look at the preliminary findings.
142 per cent! That’s impossible!
The increase in Delta, for example, is striking: 142 per cent! Increases of varying amounts across the region are, however, relatively consistent (with only the North Shore showing a decrease in homeless people tallied during the 24 hours of the count).
In looking at this data, what we can say with certainty is that homelessness is not a “Vancouver problem,” nor are homeless people migrating en masse to the suburbs based on Vancouver’s continued high rates and years of data indicating that many people remain in their home communities.
The increase in Delta provides an interesting example of how bad housing policy and growing poverty may be driving up homelessness in suburban areas. It may also be a strong indicator that previous homeless counts have drastically underestimated homelessness in more rural and suburban communities.
No one with an ounce of sense disagrees these counts constitute a significant underrepresentation of homelessness, and some new initiatives, including a dedicated rural strategy and “connect events” (special service events in suburban areas designed to attract homeless people so they can be surveyed) in less urban areas may also be increasing capacity to find people who were previously excluded from the count.Read more