Dockside squatters moved inside – success?

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In October/November, 10 men and 2 women made a temporary home out of the Dockside welfare office patio. Word got out to CCAP that the squatters would be removed because the Ministry’s head office wanted the patio barred off.

Muriel, Diane, Phoenix, Lewam, Ann and I checked it out after a CCAP action meeting last week.  We found squatters in a dandy spot: it was dry, clean and had under the radar support of office and security workers.  With a 24 hour bathroom across the street, meals arranged at the 44, the potential to sleep around the clock under the protective eye of security and some collective rules and solidarity, personal health conditions of the squatters was improving.  With the pressure to move out, they found themselves in a good position to negotiate the next steps – getting inside.

“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, the lead organizer at the squatter site said:  “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.”

But unfortunately, what unfolded at Dockside sounds like a broken record.  Here’s the pattern similar to Oppenheimer and Glen Ave squats:

o  Pressure to close the squat site,

o  outreach workers called into relocate squatters,

o  outreach workers can’t find rooms for squatters,

o  squatters and supporters ramp up pressure,

o  media gets involved,

o  the Province gets involved and moves everyone at once to a provincially owned hotel, and

o  the outdoor sites are barricaded or policed so squatters can’t come back.

squatters
Sarah, Tina, Brian, Bingo, Bingo’s son come out early to support Albert

 

Nearly all the Dockside squatters were relocated into the Gastown Hotel.  Last time I talked to them, I heard various versions of “maybe it’s better outside.”  Outside the Welfare office they had to deal with the weather and lack of privacy.  Lack of privacy, filth, bugs, mice and a short supply of support greeted them inside.

Once the weather changes, they may end up back outside, if not before. Are we creating a revolving door right back out to the street?

What’s the next step?  Well, I heard DERA is helping Gastown Hotel tenants with a petition to BC Housing to improve living conditions there.  Maybe CCAP will help draw attention to the problems there too.  Stay tuned for more.

Rumors are flying that the province has bought more hotels, but we don’t know for sure.  Maybe another broken record?  It seems that when we make some noise, we get substandard results.  We need permanent 400 square foot homes – not crummy hotel rooms forever.  As Muriel from CCAP says, we’re tired of being a country song.  Ask her to show you what she means as she does a great “improv.”

coleman

Get ready for the 2nd Annual Poverty Olympics!

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Mark your calendar for Sunday, Feb. 8th at 1 pm, the Japanese Language School at 487 Alexander St. This will be THE place to hang out with the Poverty Olympic Mascots, Creepy the Cockroach, Itchy the Bedbug, and Chewy the Rat.  The event will include fun, food, song and Downtown Eastside satire with a message.

People think of Canada as a rich and beautiful country. But we want the world to know that our neighborhood has the same HIV rate as Botswana. Our province has the highest child poverty rate in Canada (21%), and thousands of homeless people have to search through garbage for food and things to sell.

We also want them to know that all of this poverty and homelessness is completely unnecessary. Our province had a surplus of $2.9 billion last year, and the federal government had a surplus of $9.6 billion.

This year we’re thinking of events like Skating around Poverty and Curling with homelessness (where the “rock” of homelessness is swept under a big rug labeled “Olympics”).  It will be hard to top last years Broad-jump over a Bedbug Infested Mattress.

If you want to get involved in helping to organize the event, call Jean (729-2380) at CCAP.  For more information on last year’s Poverty Olympics, check out povertyolympics.ca.

 

Mapping brings out community spirit

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CCAP is working on a new phase of visioning for a low-income “friendly” neighbourhood. It is called “mental mapping.” We learned about this from a Professor at UBC named Pilar Riano-Alcala. She is originally from Columbia and travels there regularly to map with people there. The purpose is to help people advocate for their communities.  The maps Pilar makes show more than just physical buildings. These maps can show the attachments people have to places in their neighbourhood. They show which places contribute to a community atmosphere.

CCAP’s Mapping Process

So far, we’ve had 7 mapping sessions. Each session had around 10 people. We met with the Carnegie Association board, 2 different groups of CCAP volunteers, women from Lifeskills in a program called DAMS, tenants of the Gastown Hotel and we had 2 practice sessions with members of LILAHC, the DTES land use coalition who helping out with this visioning. We refined our format after the 6th session and now we’re ready to take it out to the community and do mappings all over the area.

The first thing we do is put 4 flip chart papers taped together on the table to make a very large empty square.  With coloured felt pens on the table, we ask if someone can draw a meaningful place on the map. Then we ask why it’s meaningful and write down what the person says word for word, if we can. When we asked the CCAP volunteers to draw a meaningful place, there was a hesitation and we all looked at each other. Then Clyde, from VANDU, who was standing behind everyone said, “I’ll do it.” He reached over and grabbed a pen. Someone said, “what are you drawing Clyde?” He said “Carnegie” and he drew a big blue heart in the middle of the giant paper. We asked him why it is meaningful and then went on to the next person who drew another meaningful place. Pretty soon we had many significant places on the map and rich stories to go with them. Then people put stickers on 3 places each to show which 3 places were the most meaningful places to them.

Next people drew the best housing in the area, the best places to eat or get food and the most uncomfortable, unsafe areas (or “places that piss you off” as Jean would say to make everyone laugh).  Different colour stickers were used for each.

What people said

Here are the top meaningful places people mentioned: Carnegie, Oppenheimer Park, Crab Park, Vandu, Vancouver Native Health, DTES Neighbourhood House, Lifeskills, MacLean Park, First United Church, Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, Insite, Health Contact Centre, YWCA Crabtree Corner.

The women at DAMS told us the whole area was meaningful not just one place. When I asked them why, they said “because of the missing women.” I asked them to draw that and they drew little hearts of the boundaries and then drew a big circle around the whole area. One woman then wrote on the map: “we’ve been here for 20 years, longer than anyone else. It is our neighbourhood.” Another woman said, “we aren’t asking for Granville or any of those things, we’re just asking for this little part…if I won the lottery, I would buy the whole place…the area where a lot of women went missing.”

The best housing so far is Four Sisters and Lore Krill Co-ops, Mavis McMullen Housing, Native Housing on Pender and the Bruce Eriksen Building. Nobody mentioned condos! Lore Krill was called the “best living dwellings I have seen down here” by one person. She said “It’s a lot better than mine which is falling down. It’s a place you could be proud of to live in.” When the Four Sisters was mentioned, someone said “[It] has lots of kids. I’ve applied there many times and never got in. I would like to be an aunty there. I like the wine and cheese, the BBQ’s there, the green space in the middle, the roof gardens. One person said: “when I was homeless, I didn’t think I’d ever get stable again. People don’t feel they deserve a nice home. Getting a nice home changes your way of thinking.”

Here are the best places to eat or get food so far: Sunrise, Carnegie, Save on Meats, Butcher at Oppenheimer, St James for ensure, Uncle Henry’s, the Women’s Center and more.

The worst places: jailhouse, condo sites, abandoned places, boarded up, upscaling places, bar hopping crowds, the drug selling crowd in front of Carnegie and the bottle depot.

You can read more about what people said in future newsletters and in our final report.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to participate in these workshops. If you want to be part of a mapping workshop, just let us know.