Homeless make do by sleeping out on a Cabinet Minister’s Doorstep

Carnegie Community Action Project News Conference

Homeless people are making do by sleeping out on a Cabinet Minister’s doorstep, but they want real housing so they can go to work.

“I want to move on from here and go to school. Indian Affairs will help me with that. But I need a place. You don’t have a life when you live in a shelter. I need to cook when I need a meal and I need a shower when I need a shower. I can’t find a place to live. I’m not getting anywhere here,” says Kaleb Zentner, a homeless squatter at the site.

Albert John Ouimette, one of the homeless squatters who has been sleeping out for months, says, “If the janitors want to wash the floor we leave because we want to make it easy for them. We keep the place tidy. We don’t cause problems here because we need to stay. The workers know who we are. They know we got respect. But I need my own space, my own key, if I’m going to work everyday.”

Come to a news conference to find out where the squatters are and what they need.

The Soul of Vancouver book launch

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With: Jean Swanson (CCAP), Kim Kerr (DERA), Bud Osborn, Sandy Cameron, Diane Wood, Stephen Lytton, X, Sharon Kravitz, Tui Hill, Ayisha Faruk, Mary Duffy, Leith Harris, Melissa Eror, Colleen Carroll, Rolf Auer, Phoenix Winter, Rudolf Penner, Kelly Stewart, Montana Hunter, Dan Thompson, Barbara Timperley, Tony Snakeskin & Holly Boyd (VANDU), Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre Power of Women, DTES Neighbourhood House Storytellers

Carnegie Theatre 401 Main at Hastings
FREE Come early, capacity is limited!

Can poetry save the world? Join the idealists of the DTES, poets and community activists for an exciting night of spoken word and music, resisting gentrification and displacement.

The Soul of Vancouver honours the history of our community, as developers move east, gobbling up the homes of thousands of low-income residents. We are tired of being labeled “Four Blocks of Hell”, we choose to live here. We’re wary of people saying they want to clean up the neighbourhood, because we know what they mean is sweeping us out of sight, and we’re not garbage. We don’t need “Revitalization”, we’re pretty vital as we are. Listen to us, we’ll tell you what we need.

Heart of the City Festival

Over 600 Downtown Eastside residents are homeless

How many homeless people live in the Downtown Eastside?  According to the official homeless count done last March, on March 11 there were 659 homeless people in the DTES, or 54 % of all the homeless people in Vancouver.  Of these, 276 were in shelters and 383 were on the street or using a service.    According to the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, which did the count, their method of counting “underestimates the number of homeless people,” so there are really more homeless people than the official count found.

The number of people who are homeless and on the streets in the whole region (not just the DTES) increased by 373% to 2660, according to the March count.  Aboriginal people represent 32 % of homeless people in spite of being only 2% of the regional population.  And Aboriginal women make up 44% of homeless women in the region.

Some other facts:  It costs the government about $33 million a year to maintain homelessness, according to a SFU study it paid for.  The province had a surplus of $2.9 billion in 2007-2008 and a $250 million housing fund that is in a bank.  The federal government had a surplus of $10.2 billion for the same period.  CCAP estimates that there are over 400 vacant rooms in the DTES, enough to shelter all the homeless people found outside of shelters last March.

Rooms turned into offices at hotel above old Vic’s Restaurant

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For some time, CCAP and the Carnegie Centre Community Association have been concerned about the use of Jay Rooms at 172 E Cordova Street.

According to the City of Vancouver 2007 Survey of Low-Income Housing in the DTES, the Jay Rooms has 12 closed residential hotel rooms.

Since March of 2008, people in our community have noticed activity in these rooms, increasing as time went on, including use in evenings.

Our suspicions were finally confirmed when the owners of the property (Vince Trust) found a glitch in their plans to rent out the rooms as offices to a community group needing office space.  They needed some community support.

So the manager of Vince Trust approached CCAP and told us they may redevelop virtually the whole block with condos.  They said they would meet with the Province and/or use density bonusing (extra height sometimes trades for affordable housing) to pay for some social or affordable housing on the site in the future.  In the meantime, they asked CCAP to give them some slack on the offices.

Regardless, CCAP opposes the use of offices.  Until there is a solid plan and tools to guarantee redevelopment proposals stay within the goal of a predominantly low-income neighbourhood, CCAP is not interested.

The city does not seem to be enforcing the SRA bylaw at the Jay Rooms.  CCAP asked the city to enforce it to maintain the rooms in the stock of desperately needed affordable housing.  According to the Single Room Accommodation (SRA) Bylaw, owners cannot change the use of residential hotel rooms (SROs) unless they get a development or conversion permit from City Hall.  City Council can, but doesn’t have to, charge the owner up to $15,000 per room that is converted.  This SRA bylaw was supposed to protect hotel rooms in the DTES for low income residents.  Lets stick to enforcing the bylaw until we have some certainty.

Daily weekly use of rooms still a mystery

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Pivot Legal Society made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to find out which DTES hotels are renting by the day and week.  Last month they got the info they requested, or, rather, 13% of the information they requested.

Under the Single Room Accom. bylaw hotels are allowed to rent out 10% of their rooms by the day and week to tourists.  The other 90% have to be rented monthly to local residents.  But it has been hard for city inspectors, to say nothing of the rest of us, to figure out if hotels are really renting only 10% of rooms daily or weekly.  That’s because the hotels kept switching rooms they rented daily and weekly.

So the city told owners they had to give them a list of the room numbers of the rooms they rented daily (not weekly for some reason).  Owners were supposed to give the city this list by Sept. 1st.

Pivot got the list from the city with their FOI request.  161 hotels are on the list and only 21 replied, listing the room number of the rooms they rent daily.  That’s 13%.

Here’s what some of them said:

Columbia Hotel: 6 rooms rented daily (do any of you readers know if this is true?)

C&N Backpackers Hostel:  33 (this is 100%, not 10% of their rooms, probably illegal)

Ivanhoe: 10 rented daily all with 500 numbers (you can see bunk beds on all floors if you look in the Ivanhoe windows from Main St.-are they renting daily on the other floors?)

Hotel St. Clair:  27 or 100%.  A note says this hotel has applied for an exemption to the SRA bylaw.

It is important to stay on top of this.    Potentially 400 rooms out of 4000 rooms can be rented daily/weekly.  That is a lot of rooms not available to renters who need long term housing. These rooms are not covered by the residential tenancy act which means tenants have no protection against eviction.  Come the Olympics, how tempting will it be for owners to go over the limit, especially if the city has trouble enforcing it.  Also, owners can empty out a hotel more easily by gradually increasing the daily/weekly rooms through attrition.  CCAP wants the city to revoke this bylaw and protect this important temporary accommodation for DTES residents.

Housing Justice Forum packs the house

Last Friday, about 150-200 crammed into the Women’s Centre (DEWC) to hear Carol Martin, Nisga’a Nation & Victim Services at DEWC, Anne Marie Monks and Kayla from Power of Women, Jean Swanson from CCAP and Nick Blomley from SFU talk about housing Justice.  If you didn’t go, here is a summary of what was said.

After an opening ceremony by Rita Blind of the Elders Council, Jean spoke about the need to build homes in the DTES to replace 5000 temporary rooms and for 1000 homeless people in the area.  She talked about the policy changes and then said “it doesn’t look good but we have 100 years of struggle and successes that we can take some inspiration from.  We are more united than ever before on needing housing, incomes and better services.”

Carol said “Governments are making us choose whether you are going to get fed or put a roof over your head.”  She told us about waking up and finding herself homeless because of the way her own people manage their housing.  She inspired us by saying we need to think about one big thing that we can all do together.

Anne Marie, elder and originally from Germany, told us about how she was assaulted, went into a coma and eventually became homeless, “but I’m still here and I’m starting to fight back…I found my voice thanks to the Women’s Centre.  She made everyone laugh when she said Sullivan was too scared to spend 1 day in her shoes.  This referred to the Power of Women’s suggestion to mayor and council that they do a housing swap with women at the centre. (It got national attention!)

Kayla told us that 30% of the DTES population is indigenous and struggling because of broken promises made to them.  She said we need to open our eyes and raise our voices because so many are falling through the cracks.

The last speaker, Nick, said developers lay claim to the DTES by saying “there is nobody living in the DTES.”  The Coast Salish, after 10,000 years of use, were displaced through similar forces expelling residents now.

Lots of good questions followed.  Thanks to the Power of Women for organizing this great event.