A group of over 500 Downtown Eastside (DTES) residents and their supporters gathered at Pigeon Park in Vancouver today at a rally called "No More Empty Talk, No More Empty Lots." A five-storey high banner describing the protest's aims: "Homes Now: Tent to End: Homelessness, gentrification and criminalization of the poverty" was draped over a neighbouring building.
Rally participant Mysa Kaczkowski, a waitress who's lived in the Downtown Eastside for three years, told rabble.ca: "I love my neighbourhood, I love my community and I don't want to see it taken away.
"I have an income, I have a roof over my head and I can barely afford to live here -- how can anyone else?"
Rick Bron, a local resident, added "I'm homeless, and need a place to live -- places that are affordable are not livable."
Holding a banner with a banner depicting Olympic mascots including a "Quatchi" with skull and crossbones for earmuffs, organizers from the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre Power of Women led a march to the newly unveiled Olympic Tent Village, where DTES residents, homeless persons and allies will be camping out to protest the lack of social housing and gentrification affecting the DTES.
The opening of the Village coincides with Pivot Legal Society's Red Tent campaign. Launched at the beginning of February, the campaign is intended to draw attention to the homelessness crisis in Canada and the need for the federal government to implement a funded national housing strategy. 500 red tents are pegged to be set up throughout the city, with some going to the Village. Today Pivot unfurled a 45' banner that read "Homes for All" off the Cambie Street Bridge, directly over many Olympic sites.
The Tent Village is located on an empty lot owned by Concord Pacific. According to Dave Diewert of Streams of Justice, the group endorsing the action, the lot is pegged to become condos after 35 people protested against its development at City Hall. "We wanted this place to go for social housing," he explains. "This community needs to be a grounds for good housing."
According to a statement released by Matt Meehan, Senior Vice President of Planning at Concord Pacific, "the land is currently leased and under Vanoc's control for the Games. [It is] slated for housing. Concord Pacific is working with the city and community on programming."
No police action took place at the march or the opening of the Village. Diewart hopes that at least 24 campers and friends will be at the site at all times to protect the Village from police force, and maintain a visible presence. "The worst charge we could get is trespassing, maybe mischief," he said. "With this many people its not likely that anything will happen."
If the campers are forced to leave the site, they will likely move to another undisclosed location, says Diewert. Streams of Justice has also been in contact with Pivot and the BC Civil Liberties Association about legal issues.
Bill "Shadow" Halliwell, a former homeless person who is planning to camp with the group, says "I'll be here as long as they allow us." Halliwell has attempted squats before, but "got shut down as soon as we tried." Asked if he thinks that police action will take place at the Village, Halliwell notes, "right now the world's eyes are on us, so they gotta be careful what they do."
To view more photos of the event visit rabble.ca's 2010 Olympics Flickr group.