Ilona Schild (left) and Stacy Dubois have been homeless in Vancouver for five years

Tent cities show urgency for affordable housing needed yesterday: advocates

When one is dismantled, another pops up, continuing the displacement of thousands in the Lower Mainland.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Scroll down, or click here, to see a recent history of tent cities across the region.


Yet another tent city has come and gone in the Lower Mainland, following a municipal government’s effort to evict homeless people living in a public place.

Most recently, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted the City of Vancouver’s request last week to get rid of about 17 people living in an empty lot at 58 West Hastings Street.

The group had until Thursday to leave. Some simply moved to Thornton Park near Main Street Station, where police and park rangers were dismantling tents and arresting those not co-operating Friday.

The West Hastings’ camp was home for close to 80 people at one point, forming back in July.

It was one in a string of encampments across the region during the last five years that has highlighted the homeless population’s struggle to find a safe place to sleep.

“The shelters are full, we are in the middle of a housing crisis, and the city is moving in the wrong decision by failing to support people who find reasonably safe alternatives, resulting in their continued displacement,” said DJ Larkin, lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society, who represented the Hastings campers in court.

The order to leave hit like “another punch in the stomach,” said campers Stacy Dubois and Ilona Schild.

“I don’t know if anyone really cares too much of what happens to us,” Schild said. “I’ve heard people call us throwaway people… and alley people, and I don’t know how the judge looks at us really – it’s hard to say.”

Housing need causes tension between cities, province

The rise in homeless camps has prompted plenty of finger-pointing.

Advocates and campers have called on municipalities to build more shelters, while municipalities say the provincial government needs to provide the cash.

In the West Hastings case, Justice Loryl Russell said Vancouver has to do its best to find adequate housing for those being displaced, but Larkin said the BC Housing list for priority housing is long, and when homeless people move around, it’s hard to get them connected with resources.

“I don’t blame cities for their frustration at the province right now. The province has not been properly funding housing social and affordable housing in a very long time – I am also furious with the province,” Larkin said.

In 2015, a judge ruled that a group of campers could no longer live at a public park in Abbotsford, but they could sleep there overnight if there weren’t enough shelter spaces available.

In Victoria, campers squatted on the courthouse lawn for nearly a year, claiming they had nowhere else for them to go, before the city was granted an injunction to have them removed.

City bylaw officers and RCMP disagreed over who would handle safety issues, said Cailtin Shane, Pivot’s articling student.

“Housing is a provincial issue, but then ground-level stuff was between campers and city staff,” Shane said. “There was strange tension because it was provincial land.”

The City of Maple Ridge continues to look for adequate shelter options for its residents following a tent city in 2015, while some people are still living at a temporary shelter in a former SleepShop store.

Municipal and provincial officials found a proposed site for a new $5-million 60-unit facility in the Quality Inn, but Housing Minister Rich Coleman withdrew the proposal months later over concerns from local MLAs over the location.

Mayor Nicole Read questioned why the city was responsible for consulting with residents, when the province can just pull the plug.

In the meantime, a pregnant woman has been attacked at the temporary shelter, while other residents have had full pop cans thrown at them, according to a letter issued by the city.

And in April, two men in a van tried to run over a resident of the shelter; while in a separate incident, someone jumped out of a vehicle and beat a resident with a pipe in a nearby parking lot.

Cities can ‘end the price squeeze’: Premier

Still, there’s a lot cities can do on the ground, said Maria Wallstam of the Carnegie Community Action Project, based in the Downtown Eastside.

“Lots of people are displaced to the street because they lose their housing and their rents go up,” she said. “The city can actually do a lot to stop that.”

Meanwhile, as paramedics dealt with a record number of overdose-related 911 calls this week, Wallstam said encampments mean homeless people are safe together rather than alone in back allies where they could overdose and die.

Last Tuesday, Premier Christy Clark and Minister Coleman announced funding to create almost 2,900 affordable housing units in B.C. – half of those to be constructed in the Lower Mainland in the next two years.

Several communities like Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack received fewer housing units than anticipated, despite politicians hoping for a few projects in their communities.

Clark was asked how municipalities should deal with homeless camps while waiting for those new units to be built.

“The private sector can build a lot more housing a lot more cheaply, and end the price squeeze,” she said. “Municipalities need to put more supply on the market, they need to approve more housing, they need to approve more density.”

National strategy released

Also this week, the federal government released an overview of its national housing strategy, including results from surveys.

B.C. residents reported that housing for low-income people and groups with distinct housing needs is their biggest concern. How this data will actually be implemented won’t be revealed until 2017, when a more comprehensive report is to be released.

“Over the coming months, priority will be placed on continuing and completing the consultations with national indigenous organizations on how to best meet the housing needs of Indigenous Canadians wherever they may live,” the report said.

UBC professor Penelope Gurstein, who studies affordable and public housing, said she is optimistic about the new report.

She said it will address the unevenness of housing across provinces and municipalities.

“Before the 1990s, the federal government [was] more involved in housing,” Gurstein said. But then they began offloading the job to provinces, she added, who began offloading to municipalities.

Looking at housing on a national scale could unite provinces in their efforts to combat homelessness, she said.

“People are camping out for some reason. They want people to understand this is critical.”

Homeless mobility reflects struggles to find resources

Schild and Dubois are prime examples of why adequate housing is needed.

The couple became homeless five years ago, when their rundown rented home on 135A street in Surrey was shut down.

The two tried living on the streets for a few months, but struggled to find a safe place to sleep and, through WorkBC, a good place to work

So they looked to Vancouver.

The two set up their tent at skateboard parks, the library and church doors, staying till early morning when someone kicked them off the property.

They’ve stayed at a lot of shelters, describing them “as a dead end street,” with bed bugs and not enough space to allow them to stay together, so they prefer to battle through the wet and cold.

Noted Shane, the articling student, in a blog post: “Emergency shelters, they say, fail to address the root causes of homelessness and oftentimes provide homeless individuals with less security and stability than a fixed encampment.”

Schild said they’re not “holding their breath” for the city to find them a place to stay.

“It’s hard to find jobs, it’s hard to find housing the way we are in our situation. We can’t haul around our stuff to job interviews and say this is my home right here, that’s my address,” Schild said.

“Even looking for housing – same thing.”

With files from The Canadian Press and Black Press.


@ashwadhwaniashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.caLike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

RECAP: A history of tent cities in the region

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

The Capital Regional District is considering adding another dollar a year to the parkland acquisition fund fee for homeowners. (Black Press Media file photo)
One dollar or two? Greater Victoria parks acquisition fee hike spurs debate

$2 a year too steep, CRD committee recommends $1 a year increase per household

Patrol officers from VicPD’s Esquimalt division responded to a call about hateful graffiti in Macaulay Park Wednesday evening. (Black Press Media file photo)
Anti-Semitic, hate-based graffiti found in Esquimalt park

Police seek suspects after fresh hate-based graffiti found Wednesday evening

Artists, activists and supporters stand at the ‘More Justice, More Peace’ mural in Victoria’s Bastion Square after the letter ‘S’ was painted over in black. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
ACAB removed from Victoria’s More Justice, More Peace mural

New message points to VicPD, City of Victoria for silencing BIPOC voices

Samantha Lenz, resort manager for Oceanside RV Resort, says she continues to turn people away, who are looking for a permanent spot to winter on the Saanich Peninsula. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Tourism operators hope Canadian Snowbirds flock to B.C.

Provincial tourism industry hopes to compensate ‘monumental financial losses and hardship’

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
POLL: How closely are you following the U.S. presidential election?

It may feel like it’s been going on forever but the U.S.… Continue reading

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

Pilot Kevin Maher participated in a flyover of a ceremony at the Cobble Hill cenotaph on Oct. 22 in a 1940 North American (Noorduyn) Harvard aircraft. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Cobble Hill remembers lost military members with ceremony, flyover

Annual event commemorates those who died in non-combat roles

Adam Ireton holds his son Weston, along with Kristen and Beckett as they celebrate Weston's last day of treatment for lukemia. (Kristen Ireton photo)
799 days: ‘Super’ Weston defeats cancer

‘Weston is disease-free now, so we will be going into a period of checkups and things until he’s 18’

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Oct. 27

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Most Read