Update on Assistance to Shelter Act

by Dave Diewert, Streams of Justice

The name of this new law is pure euphemism. Behind the rhetoric of

humanitarian goodwill and the ostensible outpouring of concern for the

health and well-being of homeless people is the dark reality of coercion,

displacement and social control.

To begin with, those who formulated and enacted this law did not consult

shelter providers (given the objections to this Act raised by many of the

shelter providers in the lower mainland), and certainly did not consult

homeless people themselves. It is a law brought down from on high, written

and ratified by those who are well-housed and in many cases over-housed,

people who may well own multiple properties themselves. It has also been

brought forward by the same political party who has been appealing the

supreme court ruling in Victoria that allowed homeless people to erect

minimal shelters to protect themselves from the elements (an appeal that was

denied just last week). It reeks of hypocrisy and political spin.

Of course what is really needed is not more shelter, but a lot more housing

– new, adequate, secure, affordable housing for people who are currently

homeless and thousands of others who live in deep poverty. On that front we

have seen little progress. Since the Liberals have come to power, we have

witnessed an increase of over 300% in street homelessness, and most of their

efforts have been on buying SROs, increasing shelter capacity, providing

subsidies, and putting aside $250 million into a housing endowment fund that

is not being used to actually build housing (its annual interest is spent on

small projects). We don’t need shelters; we need housing, and that has been

sorely lacking.

And if assistance is to be given to homeless people, the police are

emphatically NOT the ones who should be given this task. Why turn over the

job of assisting folks, if they should need and want it, to those who are

sanctioned by the state to use violence? The Act allows them to use whatever

force is necessary to transport people to shelters … against their will.

Surely we as a community of people can exhibit the care, compassion and

solidarity it takes to make sure that our brothers and sisters on the street

are not in harm’s way during times of extreme weather.

This is an act of social cleansing, hidden behind Orwellian discourse of

help and concern for people’s safety. Its real purpose is to remove people

from sight during the Olympic spectacle. By opposing this Act, we are not

opposing genuine help or assistance for those in extreme situations. We are

instead resisting these deceptive legal mechanisms that give the state

security apparatus more power over the lives of our friends and neighbors,

and increasing the ways and means of oppressive social control over all of

our lives.

We need more housing, real homes embedded in communities of care.

Links and Media:

news 1130 reported several hundred people:

http://www.news1130.com/news/local/more.jsp?content=20091213_224159_5236

also some photos by great photo journalist jay at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/blackbird_hollow/sets/72157622876239717/

Protesters gather outside the police station on Main Street in Vancouver.

Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province

About 60 Downtown Eastside activists gathered at the steps of the

Vancouver Police station on Main Street Sunday afternoon to protest

the controversial Assistance to Shelter Act.

The group wants the provincial government to repeal the act, passed

into law last month, which gives police the power to forcibly move

homeless people into shelters during extreme winter conditions.

“The act needs to be repealed,” said organizer Harsha Walia. “If the

police have said they’re not enforcing it, then the act shouldn’t

even be on the books.”

Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the purpose of the act is to

prevent the homeless from dying needlessly out-of-doors, but

protesters, who have dubbed the new law “the Olympic Kidnapping

Act,” said the act has less to do with the well-being of the homeless

than it is about cleaning up the streets for the Olympics.

“It’s a displacement power, and it’s being used to displace people

from particular streets for the Olympics for esthetic and cosmetic

reasons,” said Vancouver Action’s Tristan Markle, noting that

housing providers such as Atira Women’s Resource Society and the

First United Church have also voiced concerns over the act.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu said his officers will only use

“minimal non-forceful touching” — similar to the helping hand one

would use to help an elderly person cross the street– when enforcing

the act.