If Vancouver truly respected human rights, it would allow port-o-potties in tent cities

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      This morning, I posted an article on this website highlighting how Vancouver has refused to follow other cities in declaring itself to be a rights-based city.

      According to a former United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing, it's one factor hampering the delivery of decent shelter for poor Vancouver residents.

      "There hasn't been an understanding that being homeless or being forced to live in a decrepit SRO or in a tent city is in of itself a violation of people's human rights," Miloon Kothari told the Straight. "And it needs to be talked about from that perspective."

      It was one of those serious, lengthy articles retweeted by middle-class intellectuals. 

      I've learned over the years that these pieces are invariably ignored by elected officials with the power to address the issue.

      But it's still a very real concern. And this evening when I glanced at my Twitter feed, I saw a stark example of what Vancouver's reluctance to be a rights-based city means for residents of tent cities.

      Housing activist Nathan Crompton declared that he was refused a City of Vancouver permit for a port-o-potty.

      According to Crompton, he was told there are "no bathrooms for tent cities". Presumably, that's because the human rights of tent-city dwellers don't rank very high on the city's list of priorities.

      When the first NDP premier, Dave Barrett, took office in 1972, he did something that sent a very clear message about whom he represented.

      His government's first piece of legislation made it illegal to charge people to go to the bathroom.

      It's why we still don't have pay toilets in British Columbia 45 years later.

      Barrett probably never anticipated that his province would become home to so many tent cities under a B.C. Liberal regime.

      Had he considered this, he likely would have ensured that people living in abandoned lots and parks would be given better opportunities to go to the biffy.

      Dave Barrett was B.C.'s first NDP premier.

      The incoming (as I expect) premier, John Horgan, has an opportunity to do something about this.

      His NDP minority government could amend the Vancouver Charter to make it illegal for the City of Vancouver to prohibit port-o-potties in makeshift tent cities.

      It would send a powerful message that British Columbia has a government with Dave Barrett's heart.

      And while Horgan's at it, he could also name a park or a bridge or a health-care centre or a stadium after Barrett as a permanent reminder of his great legacy to our province.

      The problem of homeless people finding a place to go the bathroom is no small matter. It's especially acute on holidays like Christmas when libraries, community centres, and even McDonald's restaurants are closed for long periods of time.

      As the Straight's Homeless in Vancouver blogger Stanley Q. Woodvine once wrote: "I may not always feel homeless, but a day doesn’t go by that I don’t know I’m bathroomless."