After 10 years of public pressure, Downtown Eastside advocates and the City of Vancouver have reached an agreement on low-income housing.
On August 2, Mayor Gregor Robertson signed his name below the following statement: “We commit to 100% welfare/pension rate community-controlled social housing at 58 West Hastings, working with the community to develop a rezoning application to proceed to council by the end of June 2017.”
The city-owned site is a vacant lot occupied by a group of campers staging a protest. That demonstration marks its one-month anniversary on August 9. The same site was home to a larger camp of homeless people in 2010 in the run-up to the Vancouver Olympics.
This year’s protest was loosely organized by members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users. In a telephone interview, VANDU’s Aiyanas Ormond said the deal reached on August 2 does not mean that the campers will be leaving anytime soon, simply because many of them have nowhere else to go. But Ormond said the camp likely won’t remain there for the long term.
“I don’t think there will be community support for people tenting on a lot that is going to be developed as housing for people in the community,” he said.
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.
Maria Wallstam, coordinator with the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), was in the room at the August 2 meeting with the mayor. She told the Straight that one building of low-income housing doesn’t make up for the number of low-income units that the Downtown Eastside has lost to upscale developments in recent years.
“This was our minimum demand,” she said.