Protesting homelessness, campers take over vacant lot in the Downtown Eastside

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      A new camp of homeless people formed today (July 9) in Vancouver.

      More than a dozen tents are pitched in a vacant lot in the 100 block of West Hastings Street near the intersection of Hastings and Abbott.

      The same site was home to a large camp of homeless people in 2010 that was established in the run up to Vancouver hosting the Winter Olympic Games that year.

      Today's camp was formed with the support of a number of community leaders from the Downtown Eastside.

      Karen Ward is a volunteer with Gallery Gachet, a space on Cordova Street near Columbia that serves as a support network for people who struggle with a mental illness.

      "Why now? It's overdue," she said interviewed at the camp. "So what we've decided to do with our allies is take this space. This is part and parcel of the Our Homes Can't Wait campaign, which is demanding 100 percent social housing on this city-owned land."

      Ward described the camp as an action that will continue for the long term.

      "People are going to be camping here because they need housing," she said.

      Campers described the action as a community movement, but it is loosely being led by members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (Vandu).

      When the Straight dropped by Saturday evening, Vandu executive director Marion Allaart and organizer Aiyanas Ormond were there serving a hot pot of chili.

      "Too often the media’s attention of late has been on the fact that the housing crisis in Vancouver is affecting the life choices and purchasing or investment options of middle-class people and millennials," reads a July 9 Vandu media release. "Well, the people who live on welfare, disability, or old age pension still, since 2007, continue to receive $375 for shelter allowance, which is far below the average rent for even an incredibly inadequate SRO hotel room in the Downtown Eastside."

      A well-known housing activist who calls himself Homeless Dave was also in attendance, as was Laurie Shaver, president of the B.C. Association of People on Methadone.

      Jean Swanson, a housing activist who just last week joined the Order of Canada, was also there in support of the campers' action.

      "There is no [government] plan to end homelessness," Swanson told the Straight. "It is going to get way worse. And so we need drastic action."

      Travis Lupick

      In 2016, there were more homeless people living in Vancouver than at any other time since the city began doing counts in 2005.

      According to May 2016 city report, there were 1,847 homeless people in Vancouver when the last count was conducted over a 24-hour period on March 10, 2016. Of those, 1,308 were sleeping in shelters and 539 were on the street. The total of 1,847 homeless people is up from 1,746 in 2015, 1,803 in 2014, and 1,600 in 2013.

      Through August 2014, as many as 200 tents were pitched in Oppenheimer Park as part of what homeless people described as a call for affordable housing. It was eventually dismantled by firefighters and police after the city opened a number of new emergency shelters.

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