DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE RESIDENTS LIKE THEIR COMMUNITY AND AGREE ON PRIORITIES

Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, July 28, 2008: A new report from the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) shows that Downtown Eastside residents like their community and have a remarkable consensus on what is needed to improve their lives (click on the cover image below to download report).

CCAP Publishes Interim DTES Visioning Report

“Nothing about us without us” is the name of the 20 page interim report on the first two stages of CCAP’s visioning project for mostly low income residents in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). CCAP talked to almost 300 DTES residents in its vision sessions and had 655 people fill out questionnaires about the community. The report is filled with quotes from DTES residents about crucial issues in their community. Most of the people who participated in the vision sessions and questionnaire live in hotel rooms, social housing or are homeless.

The results of the two processes show that the overwhelming majority of low-income residents agree that the DTES is a real community where people know each other and feel comfortable and at home. “Here people stick up for each other and take care of each other,” said one vision session participant. Residents like the people, the community, the services and the non-judgmental nature of the neighbourhood. An astounding ninety-five percent of questionnaire respondents said they would like to continue to live in the DTES if they had safe, secure housing.

Residents also had remarkable agreement on what is needed to improve their lives in the DTES. About 86 percent thought welfare rates should be raised to about $1300 a month, (the federal market basket poverty line). Eighty-eight percent thought government should build affordable housing in the community.  “I’m tired of “having to choose between types of bad housing,” said one woman, “mice running in mattresses versus never clean washrooms versus bedbugs.” Eighty-seven percent wanted more alcohol and drug treatment services.

Answers to several questions about condo development in the community reveal that over two-thirds of residents don’t want condos dominating the neighbourhood, and are afraid that poor bashing will increase if this happens.

Many folks in the vision sessions wanted to get the message out to the broader city that the DTES is “more than 4 blocks of hell. We have creativity and intelligence.”

The report was written by Wendy Pedersen and Jean Swanson with help from CCAP volunteers and the Low-Income Land Use and Housing Coalition (LILAHC), a coalition of DTES residents and groups who want redevelopment of the DTES to be based on the voices and vision of its current low income majority.

Oppenheimer ticketing stalled

Sometime in May or June, police sweeps went into high gear in the DTES, likely as preparation for the Olympics. First we saw ‘no camping’ signs around the area. Then we heard the police would appear where people were sleeping outside, roust the ‘homeless’ sleepers, issue tickets and trash any possessions the sleepers couldn’t carry. Those who received tickets were well-aware that more than one could result in a warrant, an arrest, and jail.

Oppenheimer Park was one place hit hard by this “ticket & trash” campaign. But on July 16th park dwellers Tina Eastman (photo), Brian Humchitt (photo), Bandit and other park dwellers took a stand with their neighbours and the sweeps were stalled as a result.

Tina Eastman, Brian Humchitt at Oppenheimer Park, July 16

Tina Eastman, Brian Humchitt at Oppenheimer Park, July 16

The stand began when residents of the colourful row houses across the street (Jackson Ave. Co-op) asked Brian and Tina if they could camp out with them in support. The next morning the police had to face some upset neighbours and their children as well. Then a defiant press release was sent out to all civic, provincial and federal politicians in Canada, the media and all the head honchos at the City Hall and the VPD.

In the press release, Kathy Walker, a parent of 5 who slept out with park dwellers said: “The Park is a much quieter and safer place when people are camping here, it becomes their home, they look out for one another, and they clean up the park. These are our neighbours and we want the city to exempt Oppenheimer Park from this by-law that makes homelessness a crime.”

Brian and Tina were quoted in the release wondering where they were expected to go. They said: “We’re homeless in our own land. We are struggling to survive in our home which is our tent.” Later in a talking circle, park dwellers said they don’t see themselves as “homeless.” The park is their home and its better than a shelter, where couples are split up, conditions are inhumane and not accessible if located away from their community in areas where they get “stared at.” As for hotel rooms, they said getting one with the combination of the right price and good living conditions is next to impossible. They were pretty clear that affordable apartments were the answer. They also say they want their Indigenous rights to sleep in the park respected. They would like to see Oppenheimer designated as a “spiritually sacred space.”

No Camping signs spring up in the area

No Camping signs spring up in the area

With a break from the sweeps, at least as of July 29th when this article was written, park dwellers are settling in more. They have a couch, a large drum, a talking stick carved for discussions about the park, beautifully painted rocks (by Leah) lining the path by their space, the beginnings of a code of conduct for the park and are talking about setting up tee-pees as a traditional symbol of “home.”

In the meantime, neighbours remain on watch and will be called upon to show up when police arrive if the ticketing resumes. Park dwellers hope to keep the activism there small and manageable for now. PIVOT will help Tina and others challenge their tickets in court.

NEIGHBOURS CAMP WITH THE HOMELESS TO PROTEST UNFAIR TICKETING

PRESS CONFERENCE

Where: Oppenheimer Park, 400 block Powell Street
When: Friday, July 18 6:00 a.m. – near the totem pole

July 17, 2008, Vancouver, BC:  Police continue to ticket and confiscate belongings of “homeless” campers at Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside every morning.  The sweeps typically happen between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. and campers were threatened today that multiple tickets will turn into arrests tomorrow.

Neighbours are concerned about this and not for the usual reasons the public would expect. Kathy Walker, a parent of 5 and resident of Jackson Ave Co-op along with other supporters will sleep out with the campers tonight. She said: “The park is a much quieter and safer place when people are camping here, it becomes their home, they look out for one another, they clean up the park. These are our neighbours and we want the city to exempt Oppenheimer Park from this by-law that makes homelessness a crime.”

With a virtual zero % vacancy rate, closure and upscaling of many local residential hotels, 40,000 turnaways from shelters over a 9 month period in the area, the campers themselves wonder where they are expected to go.  Brian Humchitt and his partner Tina Eastman were ticketed this morning.  They said:  “We’re homeless in our own land.  We are struggling to survive in our home which is our tent.”

Wendy Pedersen, parent of 2, resident of the DTES and organizer for the Carnegie Community Action Project, says “these tickets will turn into warrants.  This by-law is the perfect tool to aid the police to move people where they want them to go before the 2010 games – out of the Downtown Eastside.  We need some social housing announced in this neighbourhood not more crackdowns on people with none.”

PIVOT Legal Society is collecting tickets and planning to contest them in court.

A convergence of concerned neighbours is planned for 5:00 a.m. Friday morning and a press conference will be held at 6:00 a.m.  Planning is underway to continue the pressure.

“Discovering” the Downtown Eastside

On July 5th, about 80 Downtown Eastside residents and friends marched from Pigeon Park to the site of Concord Pacific’s proposed condo development at 58 W. Hastings and then on to Concord’s glitzy Presentation Centre at the south end of Carrall St. At the Centre, the marchers chanted “Concord: Get Out!” over and over. Then Streams of Justice presented a tableau from the back of a pickup truck decked out with paper mache person labeled “Downtown Eastside” who wore a hangman’s noose around his neck. Dave Diewert presented this speech showing how the Downtown Eastside is being colonized by developers from outside the community who are denying the humanity of the community to justify destroying it:

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

What you are witnessing today is the tragic and unnecessary elimination of a real community at the hands of profiteering developers and supportive city officials.

Recall the explorers of old.

Sustained by financial backing from state and private funders, they sailed off to “discover” new lands, fuelled by a desire for untold wealth and resources.

Their journeys led them to distant places, where they encountered communities of people and complex cultures they did not know or understand. And indeed, the land was rich in resources and potential wealth-creation, and they earnestly longed to posssess it.

So they used their power to remove the people who stood in their way, through deceptive legal strategies, philosophical and theological argumentation, and the violent use of coercive force. Rooted in an ideology of cultural superiority, they destroyed indigenous people and their cultures to clear the way for their own appropriation of land and wealth.

Today we have new explorers; they are the large real estate developers who are invading the community of the Downtown Eastside in order to appropriate the land and acquire for themselves great wealth.

They build condos for wealthy city-dwellers and displace the current low-income residents of the neighborhood. They promote their efforts as creating “communities for world-class living” while the actual community of people struggling with poverty, ill-health and trauma are removed from serious consideration and criminalized.

Real estate speculation, increased rents, soft conversions, loss of land, and the influx of upscale amenities are the local fallout of this invasion of condo development, and it means displacement, eviction and increased homelessness for the people of this community.

And city officials applaud and approve this pattern of settlement (aka, community development). They imagine a mixed neighborhood, one more inhabitable for the “deserving” members of the society. Its proximity to the downtown core makes it an enviable place for aesthetic impulses. Using the rhetoric of “revitalization” and urban renewal, they give their stamp of approval to the numerous applications for development permits.

The Downtown Eastside is being appropriated into a scheme of upscale, world-class development, legitimated by city officials and their regional plans, and fuelled by an ideology of free-market investment and visions of a world-class city.

This inevitably entails the loss of land and services for the majority low-income residents of the neighborhood, the displacement of individuals from their homes, the increase of homelessness, and above all, the destruction of a real, vibrant, creative, courageous community.

For this we grieve … and we resist, by bearing witness to what is happening and by formulating our own vision of this neighborhood, and demanding its implementation.

We are here, and together we are strong.

City green-lights condo against community objections

by Jackie Wong

Despite 200 protest letters and 40 people speaking out against it at a development permit board hearing Monday (June 23), a 160-unDD condominium project at 58 West Hastings Street — in the heart of the Downtown Eastside — was given the green light by City staff.

The decision follows angry criticism from community advocates, who say the site should be used for much-needed social housing in the area instead of luxury condos that Downtown Eastside residents couldn’t possibly afford.

Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) organizer Wendy Pedersen has been leading the charge of community members speaking out against the development, which is to be called the Greenwich. CCAP is one of 45 community groups and politicians against the condo project, including Lord Strathcona Elementary School, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), and the Fairview Baptist Church. Pedersen and her peers have been working to get the project’s development company, Concord Pacific, on the side of residents for the past month and a half, with little success. Their best result of repeated efforts to meet with Concord Pacific developers was a closed-door meeting last week with company CEO Terence Hui. Attendees weren’t allowed to take notes.

“[Hui] has three different agendas he has to deal with day to day,” says VANDU president Richard Utendale, who went to Hui’s meeting. “That’s social benefits, responsibility to the community as a developer, and responsibility to his company. At the end of the day, what’s best for his company is gonna win.”

Utendale noted that Hui also needs to maintain a reputation as one of Vancouver’s top property developers. “He needs to be concerned about his reputation in the development community,” he says. “But if you really believe in social housing and if you really believe something can be done about that, then stand up and say something about it.”

Despite a number of phone calls and e-mails to Concord Pacific developers over the last three weeks, WE did not receive a response by press time.

Now that City staff have granted Concord Pacific and architectural firm Busby Perkins + Will the go-ahead on the project, CCAP and other Downtown Eastside advocacy groups will continue the push for social housing on the site instead of the ground-level retail space and condominium units in the works. “We lost [at the development permit board hearing], but I think people in our group have the fantasy to break through the system,” says Pedersen. “We’re resolute that we want 100 per cent social housing on that site.”

Work Less Party mayoral candidate Betty Krawzcyk is a vocal supporter of CCAP’s initiatives, and is disgusted that the development currently slated for 58 West Hastings is named after an historic bohemian neighbourhood in New York City. “It should be named the Blair Witch Project, because it’s a horror show,” she says. “The bohemian village in New York was not a place where people lived in abject poverty. There were a lot of young people there. You did not have this intense problem with drug addiction. I think they are really over-reaching their comparison there.”

Grant Murray, VP of Sales for Concord Pacific, says the name is inspired by New York’s Greenwich Village. “It’s a flavour of the different people that will be there,” he says. “It takes a bit of the New York atmosphere with the stone buildings.”

Peter Busby, managing director of Busby, Perkins + Will, argued at Monday’s hearing that the Greenwich condominium units will be suitable for people entering the real-estate market. “This is affordable housing,” he said. “This is something first-time buyers can get hold of.”

According to Concord Pacific’s website, condominium units at the Greenwich currently range in price from $300,000 to more than $500,000.

Stop Condos in the DTES, says 46 citywide groups

CCAP Condo Moratorium Motion to City of Vancouver Council – 22nd May 2008

Proposed MOTION on Downtown Eastside redevelopment To Vancouver Mayor and City Council Prepared by the Carnegie Community Action Project (Phone 604 / 839-0379)

WHEREAS the Downtown Eastside is a vital and historic low income community with intelligent, creative, caring, volunteering residents who consider the area the their home; and

WHEREAS there are hundreds of sites throughout the DTES that are ready for redevelopment; and

WHEREAS developers, now short of development opportunities in other parts of the central city, are seeking sites; and

WHEREAS developers have been encouraged by the City to “go east” and are hungrily speculating across the DTES; and

WHEREAS there is no vision or mechanism to guide inevitable change and development; and

WHEREAS current zoning regulations permit redevelopment to a certain height and density to occur with minimal opportunity for review either by staff or by the community; and

WHEREAS unlimited condo development in the DTES could displace up to 4000 low income hotel residents from the area because it will take up land that could be used for social housing and create pressure to convert or raise rents in SROs; and

WHEREAS the City’s DTES Housing Plan calls for market and social housing to “proceed together for the DTES to be sustainable;”

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that City Council immediately (by June 21, 2008 at the latest) place a one year moratorium on market housing development in the DTES to give the current community a chance to prepare a vision for the future of this historic and vital low income community, the soul of Vancouver, and to give the City time to prepare mechanisms to control development so the current low income community will not be driven out by market forces.

ENDORSERS

Ahavat Olam Synagogue
Battered Women’s Support Services
BC Coalition of People with Disabilities
BC Persons with AIDS Society [BCPWA]
BC Women’s Housing Coalition
Canadians for Reconciliation
Carnegie Community Action Project [CCAP]
Carnegie Community Centre Association
Citywide Housing Coalition [CHC]
Civil Society Development Project
Community Advocates for Little Mountain [CALM]
Desmedia
Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House [DTES NH]
Downtown Eastside Residents Association [DERA]
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre [DEWC] Power of Women
Eastside Story – Co-op Radio 102.7 FM
Fairview Baptist Church
Faith Communities Called to Solidarity with the Poor
Gallery Gachet Society
Grandview Woodlands Area Council
Impact on Communities Coalition [IOCC]
Jenny Kwan MLA
Libby Davies MP
Life Is Not Enough Society [LINES]
Lord Strathcona Elementary School
Low Income Land Use and Housing Coalition [LILAHC]
Lutheran Urban Missions Society [LUMS]
Magdalene Recovery Society
PIVOT Legal Society
Positive Women’s Network
Prostitution Alternatives Counseling & Education [PACE] Staff
Raise the Rates
Riley Park Community Visions Implementation Committee
Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver
South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy
St. James’ Social Gospel Coordinating Group, St. James’ Anglican Church
Streams of Justice
Tenth Avenue Church
United Native Nations [UNN]
University of British Columbia [UBC] School of Social Work
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users [VANDU]
Vancouver Catholic Worker
Vancouver-Langara British Columbia New Democratic Party
Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society [WAHRS]
YouthCO AIDS Society
614 Vancouver, Salvation Army