What’s going to happen after March 31st when the shelters close?

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Councillor Kerry Jang says the city is working to find housing for people using the shelters (G&M, Feb. 19). Judy Graves says the shelters have made a big difference but estimates there are 500 people still sleeping outside.

Will the city be able to house the 500 people using the shelters on April 1?

BC housing just bought 5 new buildings. Of those, 566 Powell (12 rooms) was vacant on Jan 30 and should be ready for occupation by Feb; 21 rooms in the London Hotel should also be ready by Feb. The Backpackers, with 40 units, should be ready by April. Total in newly bought buildings by April: 73

Of the other hotels that the province bought earlier, the Carl Rooms is completely vacant and should be ready by March with 44 rooms. Total available by April when shelters close: 117. Total short: 383, not counting people who are still homeless on the street.

Some of the hotels have “swing” units where tenants are moved while their rooms are being renovated. This may provide some space, just guessing.

All the other provincially owned hotels are scheduled to be ready after April, with the Dominion (67 rooms) in May; Walton (48) in June; and the Savoy (25) in July for 140 more.

Some of the provincially owned hotels are partially vacant (as of Dec., 2008). These include the St. Helens, Park, and Orwell (50% occupied), Orange Hall (65% occupied), and Marble Arch. So this means an additional 43 units from St. Helens in November; 25 from the Park in May; and 27 in the Orwell in Dec. and a few more in the Orange Hall and Marble Arch.

“Beggars can’t be choosers” Does the DTES want modular shelters?

“Beggars can’t be choosers.” That’s the line that kept running through my head as I listened to Michael Geller do a presentation on what he calls modular housing, but CCAP calls modular shelters. I kept thinking of that because that’s the silent premise for his proposal to build these shelters for homeless people. Geller has received $25,000 from the province to make a recommendation to them about putting modular shelters on the parking lots on either side of the Drake Hotel on Powell St. He spoke at a DERA meeting on March 23 at the Carnegie Theatre, and then people in the audience had their say.

What is a modular shelter? Geller had a slick power point presentation to answer this question. Geller’s version is not mobile homes or shipping containers, simply prefab units built in BC. They could be as small as 77 square feet with no bathroom (imagine the audacity of even proposing this as an option!) or 121 square feet with bathroom. Residents would eat in the bottom floor of the Drake, said Geller. His recommendation is for the units with a bathroom but no kitchen. There would be 64 of them in 1 and 2 stories and would cost about $45,000 each without a bathroom. Geller compared this price to $300,000 per unit for a recently approved unspecified social housing unit while the commonly accepted price for a singles unit is $200,000.

Things started to get more interesting when Geller said that these (inadequate) units could actually be turned into permanent housing with a little “refurbishing.” In addition to the Drake, they could also go on lots owned by developers who would get a tax break for allowing their land to be used for these temporary shelters. I wonder if the cost of the tax break or eating facilities is factored into his $45,000 per unit cost. They could be set up as “permanent” housing and last for 10 years, he said.

Kim Kerr of DERA opened up the discussion asking: “Is this the best we can get right now or not?” He said DERA hadn’t put its support behind this kind of housing because it isn’t adequate. He said DERA doesn’t consider hotel rooms to be social housing because they are inadequate too.

Clyde Wright of VANDU and CCAP said he was against it because it could turn into a permanent thing when it’s really just a bandaid.
Joan Morelli said she was not in favour either. “It’s another cop out for not building real housing.”

Patty said we need baby steps to get into permanent housing rather than sleep in the pouring rain. Nikki of DERA suggested that the scheme was coming forward because of the Olympics.

One woman said that modular shelters would be better than roach-ridden hotel rooms in the beginning but might deteriorate later.

At the end of the meeting Lily Loncar of DERA said that the rationale of the modular shelters was based on 2 false premises: we don’t have enough money to build good housing and we don’t have enough time. “Governments always say there’s not enough money for things poor people need,” she said. “But if we have $1 billion to spend on Olympic security, we have money for housing. The only issue is what governments chose to spend it on.” Then she added, “Any community can chose to fast track a project if they want to.” Loncar added: “We’re always told to accept crap cause there’s not enough money.”
Geller responded that he “didn’t disagree.” And said we “need to get the federal government back in” to building housing. So, why, I ask, isn’t he going around to all the media and bureaucrats and politicians arguing for that, instead of modular shelters?

CCAP volunteers and Power to Women members have also discussed the modular shelters and come out strongly opposed to them. People are afraid that they will become permanent, movable, inadequate housing instead of adequate, self contained units that help people feel respected and put down roots in the community.

Grand March For Housing

On Saturday April 4th there are Marches for Housing across BC.

A Grand March for Housing is being organized by in Vancouver by neighbourhoods, communities and labour unions across the Lower Mainland. We are organizing a DTES contingent to highlight the struggles of residents of the DTES, the poorest postal code in Canada, who are most impacted by the lack of affordable housing, growing poverty and income inequality, inadequate welfare rates, as well as cuts to social supports particularly for single mothers, those living with mental and physical health issues, and those struggling with addictions. The DTES is also home to one the largest urban Indigenous communities who continue to live under the brutalities of racism, colonialism, and poverty. Join the DTES contingent of the Grand Housing March on April 4, show your strength and express your voice as a DTES resident, and demonstrate your support for the humanity and vitality of the DTES neighbourhood. All residents and allies welcome!

GRAND MARCH FOR HOUSING SATURDAY, APRIL 4 NOON Join the DTES Contingent @ MAIN AND HASTINGS Wear a blanket

Organized and endorsed by:

BCGEU, CCAP, DTES Centre for the Arts, CAN, DTES Neighbourhood House, Gallery Gachet, Indigenous Action Movement, Power to Women Group, Streams of Justice & VANDU

With good advocates you can win big

On February 12th, 2009 the much awaited decisions from a Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution hearing arrived and delivered a monetary blow to one of the worst landlords in the DTES.

Dispute Resolution Officer Mr. Howell awarded to the former tenants of 2131 Pandora St. monetary awards for their loss of property and aggravated damages. This victory is the largest monetary case in BC’s Residential Tenancy History.

In October 2007, 30+ families and individuals had less than an hour to grab whatever they could and leave their waterlogged apartment in East Van as water poured in from the roof.

“Tenants lost everything, all their property, their security and their home. This situation was totally avoidable, the landlords just did not care about the building and the necessary maintenance.” stated Anna Hunter, advocate for the tenants from the Downtown Eastside Residents Association.

The infamous Sahota family owns the building, as well as numerous other SRO hotels and apartments in the DTES. “These landlords are well known in this community for doing the least amount of work possible in their buildings. They harass and intimidate their tenants and if you complain you are evicted.” says Hunter.

Over the course of four days in the fall of 2008 Mr. Gurdyal and Pal Sahota attempted to defend their neglect of the building’s roof by claiming that one of the tenants had intentionally vandalized the roof. In the hearings they claimed they did everything they could to prevent this disaster.

However, the Dispute Resolution Officer found differently. In his 17 page decision he states “I find that the landlords are liable in damages to the tenants in negligence…..I so find because, as mentioned earlier, I have found that the respondents’ conduct transcended simple negligence and amounted to a reckless disregard for the welfare of the tenants and the duty imposed on the landlord to provide housing suitable for occupation”. Mr Howell also stated in his decision that the landlords used the ‘alleged vandal’ as a convenient scapegoat to their argument.

Tenants were each awarded an individual monetary amount based on what they lost during the roof collapse, as well as aggravated damages for the pain and suffering caused by the experience. Total amount for the 28 claims is about $170,000.  ~DERA Press Release 02/18/09 (edits~wp)

Upscale bistro says they’re “a little ashamed”

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Last month, Dave D, Jean, Hendrik, Rolf, William, Dave and I delivered a letter from CCAP volunteers to the owners of an upscale bistro on Alexander that had poor-bashing restaurant reviews on their website about DTES residents. In the letter we said “we know you didn’t write these articles, but linking them to your website implies that you condone what they say”.

The Maître d’ who is in the middle of this photo,  didn’t appreciate the delivery of the letter or the message. But, one of the owners, Carl, later called Wendy and said that “when we looked at [the material on the website] through your eyes, we totally agreed. We are a little ashamed we didn’t catch it. We overlooked it.” A day later the offending articles were taken off the website.

Carl, the owner, said they support food programs at WISH, Covenant House, Canuck Place, the Food Bank, donated winter coats during the cold spell and donate to Projections, the non-profit charity of choice for the William Vince Foundation at 319 Main Street (across from the Police station). He also said he would much rather spend time here than in his other restaurant on Granville. The Alexander bistro is has no graffiti etc.

Carl also said they wanted to be part of the community. When I asked him if he would sign on to our campaign to create a future low-income friendly neighbourhood and endorse more social housing in the area, he said yes. He also said he was insulted that we didn’t come and talk to him first and asked that we do that instead of writing in the future. ~wp