Housing activists demand end to gentrification in Downtown Eastside
About 200 people showed up on East Hastings Street for the start of today's citywide housing march to Vancouver City Hall.
Organized by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, the protest began across the street from Insite, Canada's only legal supervised-injection site.
Long-time housing activist Jean Swanson told the crowd that they needed to send a message to the city to stop the gentrification of the Downtown Eastside.
"We'll put the message out to the province: you've got to build social housing, you've got to raise welfare rates," Swanson said. "Hopefully, we'll put the message to the feds that we need a national social-housing program and you need to put in lots of bucks."
Canada is the only G7 country without a national housing program.
The next speaker, well-known singer and actor Dalannah Gail Bowen, revealed that she fell into addiction 13 years ago and ended up on the street.
Bowen described single-room-occupancy hotels as "horrible" places to live.
"I can tell you the SROs in this community are squalor, like Third World countries," Bowen told the crowd. "No one deserves to live in those conditions. No one. But the city continues to give lip service and do nothing about that situation."
Bowen also said that the United Nations has recognized that access to proper shelter, food, and health services are basic human rights.
"Unfortunately, there are people that don't care and don't want to adhere to their human-rights policies," she said.
A Downtown Eastside activist who calls himself Homeless Dave accused Mayor Gregor Robertson and unnamed developers of waging a campaign to displace poor residents.
"In the next five to 10 years, low-income people are going to become a minority in our own community if we allow them to continue," Homeless Dave claimed.
A year ago, Homeless Dave went on a 36-day hunger strike in the same block to protest market housing going up on the site of the former Pantages Theatre.
"That day, I said gentrification is intensifying," the activist said. "The housing crisis is deepening. The people and the land are under serious threat. Desperate times call for desperate measures."
He called on the city to convert the former police station at 312 Main Street into social housing with community space for those whom he alleged were "brutalized" by police: aboriginal women and drug users.
Homeless Dave also urged the crowd to support human-rights activist and citizen journalist Sid Chow Tan's effort to secure a COPE nomination for city council.
Tan was videotaping the protest when Homeless Dave declared: "I want you to know that Sid Chow Tan is one of our elders in this community, and he's been fighting in the cause of justice for a long time. He's running for city council in the fall. I expect everybody here to help get him elected there because he's the best thing to happen to city hall since they formed city hall."
That prompted applause from the crowd. Then Homeless Dave highlighted how the City of Vancouver has recognized that it sits on unceded aboriginal territory.
"The modern city of Vancouver was founded on the traditional territories of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. These territories were never ceded through treaty or surrender. And that includes Oppenheimer Park."
More than a week ago, housing activists and homeless residents of the neighbourhood created a tent city in Oppenheimer Park.
An aboriginal elder living in the park, Stella August, thanked those who've donated to the cause.
August pointed out that the camp in Oppenheimer Park is drug- and alcohol-free.
"All the people that are on the grounds are so awesome," August said. "They work together. They clean up. The grounds are clean."