Vancouver housing advocates preparing to set up tent city at Olympic Village

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      Nearly a year ago, Vancouver’s athlete’s village was a hub of activity as hundreds of international competitors convened at the brand new building for the duration of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

      Meanwhile, a different crowd was gathered at 59 West Hastings Street, where Downtown Eastside residents and housing advocates set up a tent village to draw attention to homelessness in the city.

      Later this month, housing activists are planning a similar protest, but this time instead of Hastings Street, they intend to set up their tents at Olympic Village.

      According to Vancouver Action, one of the groups organizing this year’s tent city, the protest will highlight concerns including a need for secure and affordable housing.

      “The point of contrasting a tent city with empty units is bringing out into the open that contrast in a daring way, so it is kind of pushing something to the front of the public’s attention,” said VanAct organizer Tristan Markle. “One of the principles is that low-income folks should be accepted everywhere.”

      In addition to the tent city being planned for February 26, a housing march is also being organized for this Saturday, February 12 at noon, which will take place in the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown and the Olympic Village.

      Markle said another major concern advocacy groups will be highlighting as part of the events is what they say are harmful effects caused by gentrification in the Downtown Eastside, including the displacement of some low-income residents.

      The City of Vancouver recently released an update on housing and homelessness, in which they said the city was 450 supportive housing units short of ending street homelessness by the year 2015.

      Harold Lavender, a Chinatown resident and board member of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council, said that number of units doesn’t reflect the broader need for non-market housing in the community.

      “There are people who need supportive housing and any steps to actually get those units built can be positive, but that’s not all the people who need subsidized housing – that’s a way bigger figure,” he said.

      The neighbourhood council has launched a campaign calling on the city to secure 10 sites around the Downtown Eastside for social housing.

      “Part of the reason we’re concerned is because if these sites aren’t purchased, the land values could increase and it could become much more expensive and difficult to acquire the land at a future date,” said Lavender.

      He said there are currently about 5,000 people living in the city’s single-room-occupancy hotels (SROs), where low-income tenants face increasing rents. According to the city’s February 1 housing update, less than 35 percent of SRO rooms rent at the welfare shelter assistance rate of $375 a month.

      “It’s becoming incredibly difficult for anybody on welfare to find anywhere to live in this city,” said Lavender.

      Markle acknowledged that over recent weeks, there have been what he calls “partial but important victories” for housing advocates.

      The city shelved a controversial plan last month to allow towers in certain areas of the Downtown Eastside, and announced plans for a community planning process that will involve local residents.

      But by setting up tents around what many have described as a ghost town at the former athlete’s village, activists plan to highlight what they say are broken promises to provide a certain portion of social housing at the site.

      While two-thirds of the complex was initially slated to be designated as affordable housing, the number of units reserved for social housing has since dropped to 126, while many of the market units remain unsold.

      Lavender said he’ll be supporting the tent city plans at the end of the month.

      “I think it’s really important to draw the attention to the fact that there’s a big homeless crisis in this city,” he said. “We don’t think shelters are any kind of long-time answer.”

      The tent city set up during last year’s Olympics, which Markle noted was driven by organizers like the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre Power of Women Group, reached about 150 people at its peak.

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      Feb 9, 2011 at 5:28pm

      How does the city expect to unload the Olympic Condo project properties (and refund the tax payers of this city) and provide low income housing in the same complex? Let's get real, no one is or will pay 12 Million for a penthouse over a social housing project. Not going to happen. It's a fantasy. It may sound prejudicial but it's a reality. Practically giving away some of the most expensive housing in Vancouver does not make sense when those properties could be sold and the revenue used to build in a more practical social housing project. Low income housing has a stigma wether you like it or not.

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      Ken Lawson

      Feb 9, 2011 at 6:00pm

      This should be interesting, I wonder how far they will get, are these not the same tree huggers that we on vancouver island a few years back!

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      Feb 9, 2011 at 8:27pm

      "ask not what your country can do you for but what you can do for your country"

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      Taxpayers R Us

      Feb 9, 2011 at 9:01pm

      Prime real estate for crackheads is ridiculous.

      Give everyone housing, but in an area that makes sense.

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      Feb 9, 2011 at 10:41pm

      When it says "housing is a right" on the side of those tents where are they getting that from?

      That is not in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

      I get so sick and tired or people demanding and redefining "right" as they want them. Where does it stop? Social housing with a view? Perhaps a free car?

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      Here's a thought

      Feb 10, 2011 at 2:27am

      Let's lease the empty concrete lots beside the village to the hipst... uhhh... disenfranchised low-income young people of the city, so that they can have their little tent city all the time. It would be so deck.

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      Tania Glovebox

      Feb 10, 2011 at 6:31am

      Setting up a tent city does nothing. Unless of course these so called 'activists' plan using the tents as shelter for real homeless people. But I certainly don't expect to see that happen.

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      Jori E. Fisher

      Feb 10, 2011 at 7:43am

      I believe there are those who must comprehend that not all people of low income are "crackheads" and the like. I neither drink, smoke, nor do I "do" street drugs of any kind. I work very diligently at my job, and am considered to be a valuable, responsible, and trusted employee. Nevertheless, have Tourette Syndrome (not the swearing kind, and my tics are controlled by prescribed medications.) I am on PWD, which means that anything and everything I earn over $500.00 per month is automatically deducted, dollar per dollar from PWD. Some would say that I am in a NO-WIN situation! I come from a loving and supportive family ... my 3 younger brothers are all university educated ... one is a physician, one is a special-needs teacher, and the youngest is a businessman. I have grown up in Vancouver, and almost all of my family lives here. Although I have Tourette Syndrome, I try not to let it have me! Am I not worthy of a low-income unit at Millenium Water?

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      Feb 10, 2011 at 8:21am

      When you have a federal government more interested in providing hundreds of millions of dollars of our public tax dollars to finance the building of yet another sports stadium, which is utilized by private corporate interests and its operating costs shortfalls supported by public tax dollars, what hope is there for affordable housing initiatives in this country?

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      Josh W

      Feb 10, 2011 at 10:04am

      @NDB - Actually, Canada DID agree to make housing a right. In 1976, Canada signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which includes the right to adequate housing.

      Just a little correction. :)

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