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On June 7, members and allies of Alliance Against Displacement occupied the B.C. Housing office in Vancouver to demand the Liberal government address the city’s homelessness crisis.
There are at least an estimated 116,000 people in B.C. in housing crisis, according to Social Housing B.C. Of those an estimated 11,000 are visibly homeless, 40,000 are “hidden homeless” and 65,000 are at risk of homelessness.
Alliance Against Displacement is demanding B.C. commit to building 10,000 social housing units yearly and provide “secure and decent homes” for those living in or at risk of homelessness.
The group is also calling on the B.C. government to cancel the injunction to forcibly evict the some 100 campers in Victoria’s SuperIn Tent City on Victoria’s courthouse lawn and stated it “should declare a state of emergency about growing homelessness.”
Record-high homelessness count leads to occupation
On Tuesday morning, Alliance Against Displacement organized a news conference on the corner of Hastings and Gore to address Vancouver’s record-high homelessness count, Ivan Drury, an organizer with Alliance Against Displacement, told rabble in an email.
“When the media arrived, rather than hold a news conference, we crossed the street and began an occupation of B.C. Housing’s Downtown Eastside storefront office,” Drury explained.
Approximately 15 people began hanging banners displaying the group’s demands in windows across the front of the building. Most people were residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, supported by Alliance Against Displacement activists.
Occupiers witnessed the B.C. Housing office’s day-to-day operation where, Drury said, about six people came in to seek help from the housing officials. “Every one of them said they are currently homeless and sleeping on the street. And every one was turned away,” Drury told rabble.
The B.C. Housing office officials told the homeless people that they would face a three-year wait for an SRO hotel room owned by B.C. Housing. While some of the homeless people took phone numbers for shelters, many refused them and said they were all full anyways, Drury explained.
At around 1:30 pm, police arrived and told the occupiers their banners were a fire hazard, demanding they be removed. The occupiers refused, which led police to call the fire department. Five firefighters repeated the order to remove the banners and called their superintendent to make a decision about whether to force the occupiers to comply.
While the firefighters waited on direction, 50 members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) arrived chanting outside the B.C. Housing office. The firetruck left and did not return.
Samona, a member of VANDU, spoke outside the occupation, asking “how many of you live in shitty hotels?” to which about half of the VANDU crowd booed. She continued, asking the crowd “how many of you live on the street?” and “how many of you live in social housing that feels more like a jail than a home?”
The VANDU members continued to chant “homes not jails” to demand “real homes, not institutional ones, and not prison cells,” Drury told rabble.
The occupiers left when the B.C. Housing office closed for the day. Drury said that “the actions will continue as the homelessness crisis continues to heat up.”
Homelessness and housing crisis in B.C.
Between 10,500 and 18,000 people are currently homeless in B.C with 1,127 new people becoming homeless in Vancouver this year alone. Vancouver recorded the highest number of homeless people this year in a decade.
In April Megaphone Magazine, Vancouver and Victoria’s street magazine, released a report on homeless deaths in B.C., which showed a 70 per cent increase from the previous year in the number of homeless deaths.
Recent research suggests that 40,000 people are “hidden homeless,” meaning these individuals do not have homes, but sleep with family, friends, in cars, or in other temporary locations.
After the homeless and the “hidden homeless” come those at risk of homelessness, who spend over 30 per cent of their income on rent. Census data from 2006 indicates that over 66,000 people in B.C. are at risk of homelessness.
Alliance Against Displacement considers the B.C. provincial government’s $50 million budget for housing to be insufficient. In a recent press release, the group notes that the budget, which is for the entire province, does not require the units built to be reserved for homeless people or those at risk of homelessness.
B.C. Liberal housing minister Rich Coleman has notoriously called housing activists “whiners” and stated “There are over 2,000 units being built in the City [of Vancouver] in the last five or seven years.”
CCPA economist Marc Lee told the National Observer that he thinks the B.C. Liberals are “not interested in really addressing affordable housing.”
The federal government’s budget of about $75 million this year could build 375 units, if it was all spent on building new housing, according to the Alliance. At best, the federal budget “would house half of those who were made homeless in 2015, but would not scratch the surface of the homelessness crisis.”
B.C. Housing did not return request for comment before publication time.
Sophia Reuss is a Montreal-based writer, editor, and is a recent graduate of McGill University. She’s interested in how online media and journalism facilitate public accessibility and conversation. Sophia also writes and edits for the Alternatives International Journal.
Photo: Alliance Against Displacement’s Facebook page, taken with permission by Ivan Drury.