CCAP turned up HEAT and 3 DTES shelters got re-funded

OK, I admit maybe the pressure by police and the Downtown BIA helped keep them open too. But hey, we can take some credit. We did some serious organizing with shelter residents at Central Street during the time we thought it was closing.

The city owned shelter houses 100 people a night and is one of seven HEAT (Homeless Emergency Action Team) set up for the Olympics that were slated to close by the end of April.

“It’s just wrong,” said resident Fraser Stuart when he heard the shelter was closing. “The cost of decent housing is ridiculous. This is my home – it’s not the best home, but it’s home. We’ll try to stay here – otherwise we’re going to the parks.”

Resident Cory put it in perspective: “If I didn’t have this place I’d be in jail. If it’s cold and rainy outside, sometimes I think I’ll do something illegal just to get inside for the night. I can’t find work. As soon as they find out I’m homeless, they don’t want to hire me.”

Residents at the Central Street shelter vowed to start a tent city. Pivot offered their red tents at a press conference. One hundred shelter residents created and signed a petition. Citywide Housing Coalition helped the residents hand deliver it to city hall, Housing Minister Rich Coleman and Andrew Saxton, the only member of the ruling Conservative party elected nearby – in North Van. CCAP put out an email bulletin asking 2000 people on our list to call the Mayor, the Housing Minister and the MP in North Van.

All this pressure must have helped because the day before Central was scheduled to close, we got word from the Housing Minister that funding was secured for 3 of the biggest shelters including Central, First United and Stanley New Fountain (about 350 mats). Unfortunately, four other shelters run by Raincity are in the middle of closing in other parts of the city (160 mats). Sigh.

But another positive outcome is a few residents from Central Street have been
introduced to the CCAP group and are coming to our meetings regularly. They are a great link to the other shelter
dwellers, full of energy and inspiration and ready to do more action to end homelessness.

Can we get housing built at the new library coming to Hastings?

This is a letter that CCAP sent to the city and the library board to get more social housing at the new library branch coming to Hastings near the Astoria soon.

Dear Mayor, Council, city staff and Library board:

The Carnegie Community Action Project would like you all to know that our Downtown Eastside community is strongly in favour of putting social housing above the new library on E. Hastings St. and we would like you to work to accomplish this, either with the city or a non profit group as partner. Having a new library on Hastings provides an amazing opportunity to get virtually free land for social housing on top.

As many of you know, CCAP has worked for the last 2 years, consulting with DTES residents about the future of their community. The number one issue is affordable housing.
*88% of 655 people who filled out CCAP’s questionnaire said that it was very important to them “that governments build new social housing in the DTES” that they can afford;
*95% of people who filled out the questionnaire said they would like to continue to live in the DTES if they had safe, secure housing.

CCAP’s Vision document, which summarizes what 1200 people in the 2 year consultation wanted, says the following:
*Build high-quality, self-contained affordable and appropriate homes for Aboriginal and low-income DTES residents;
*The 700 DTES residents who are homeless are first priority for new housing;
*Current DTES residents who have low incomes are also a priority;
*Residential hotels should be replaced in 10 years, not 53 years, the current replacement rate;
*A variety of housing types, affordable to low-income people, are needed: housing for the founding Aboriginal, Chinese, Japanese and working class communities, new housing for people living in SROs, supportive housing, independent living housing, housing for families and children, housing for seniors, housing for people with disabilities, communal and co-op housing, intergenerational housing, and housing for couples;
*Housing should be covered by the Residential Tenancy Act.

Some residents suggested mixed low-income housing in buildings that have a mission to house diverse people, including those who need support. A combination of informal and formal supports needs to be built in with residents having control over the mission, values and goals of the housing as well as admission criteria for new tenants. Others felt more comfortable in buildings where all residents needed and received supports. A variety of types are needed.

We hope you will work hard to get social housing that low-income residents can afford on top of the new library.

Homeless will start Tent City to Demand Shelter

For Immediate Release, April 12, 2010

Homeless representatives from the Aboriginal Central Shelter on Central Street announced their intention to start a tent city if their 100-bed shelter closes, on April 20.

“We’ll try to stay here otherwise we’re going to the parks,” says Stuart Fraser, a resident of the Central Shelter. “People with poor mental health should not be living on the street. The cost of decent housing is ridiculous. It’s just wrong. ”

“We did our share, we worked, our relatives here in BC worked too and put their share in. We should not be put aside because we’re 45-50 years old and have trouble getting work,” said Kari Koivu, a resident of the Central Shelter. “They put so much into the Olympics. We should at least have support to live at the poverty line.”

“The same thing happens again and again. We all need this shelter,” says Dave, a resident of the Central shelter. “Shut it down and we go right back to sleeping outside. Like a circle that goes round and round.”

Members of the public are being asked to sponsor 100 red tents to go to Central shelter residents forced to live on City streets and Parks as a result of the shelter closure. More than 600 people face living on the street if planned HEAT shelter closures proceed. A coalition of housing organizations is calling on government to keep the shelters open.

“Rich Coleman needs to stop trying to force the City to pay the bill, and go after the federal government,” said Rider Cooey, of the Citywide Housing Coalition. “The City has no money, and it’s the federal government’s withdrawal of funding for social housing that has created this situation.”

“By funding the shelters, the province could prove that they were not set up solely to hide the homeless for the Olympics,” said Wendy Pederson of the Carnegie Community Action Project. “It’s hideous to fight for shelters but unfortunately, these shelters are needed until incomes are raised and real social housing is built.”

“The provincial government knows that people will be forced to live on the street and in parks if these shelters close,” said John Richardson, of Pivot Legal Society. “If the decision is to have homeless people living outside, we are asking the public to defend their right to shelter by sponsoring a red tent or a red tarp.”

Under a December 2009 BC Court of Appeal decision, homeless individuals have a constitutional right to erect a tent on public land if shelters are full. It is the first appeal court decision to find that the “right to life” under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the right to shelter. More than 70 homeless people were given permanent housing as a condition of closing the last tent city, during the Olympic Games.

The number of homeless in Vancouver has increased 12% from 2008, from 1576 to 1762. Until now, most homeless people have been able to find beds; the closure of the HEAT shelters will mean more than 1000 people will sleep on the streets of Vancouver.

Society for Poor, Marginalized, Homeless Chickens (SPMHC) to speak at City Council Thursday

Cluck. A representative of the Society for Poor, Marginalized, Homeless Chickens will crow at City Council on Thursday. SPMHC rep Robert Bonner will ask Council to expand the five freedoms for chickens to include poor, marginalized, homeless humans also.

A report to Council says that chickens should have five freedoms, including freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition, freedom from discomfort, and freedom to express normal behavior. The report also calls on Council to spend $20,000 on a shelter for homeless chickens. The SPMHC rep will express solidarity with homeless humans and suggest that more shelters and homes be built for humans quickly. Cluck.

Time: Council meeting starts at 2 pm, Thursday April 8th

Place: Vancouver City Hall, 453 12th

Our Special Community

Our neighbourhood is special.

As Sandy Cameron and Terry Hunter wrote:  “The DTES community has some powerful identifiers.  One is sanctuary–the community as a place of sanctuary.  Another is that it’s a place of resistance; it’s a place that fights for social rights.  And it’s a place of radical possibilities, a place where new ideas and new alternatives arise.”

The DTES has problems but also has assets that other neighbourhoods don’t have.

Sanctuary: Why do people who are discriminated against come to the DTES?  It’s not just cheap rent.  It’s because the DTES is accepting.  It is a place of sanctuary where people who are suffering feel at home and get help.  In CCAP’s mapping and visioning people told us this over and over.  They said this acceptance was basic to their recovery from addictions.  We want this acceptance to grow here and become a model for other communities.  We don’t want our suffering people driven away from life-saving services.

Human rights: Because people in the DTES are so poor, it is a centre of the struggle for human rights that apply to people in the rest of the city and the world.  If the city supports us to replace the illegal drug market with a regulated legal one, that could be a first for the country and the world.  It’s worth fighting for.  If you listen to DTES residents, this area could be a model for establishing relations between police and low income people—a model for the rest of the country and world.  Our DTES Member of Parliament is fighting to make housing a human right.  Our Pivot Legal is starting a national red tent campaign for a national housing strategy.  Our DTES community leaders are going across the province helping others work on safe injection sites.

New ideas and alternatives:  Look at CCAP’s Action recommendations:  Residents on agency boards, peer safety patrols, residents educating police.  These are ideas that wouldn’t come from a different neighbourhood, but they are good ideas and deserve to be worked on.  Vancouver could be a model of treating its low income people as human beings, listening to them and acting on what they say, not simply pushing them out, improving façades in their neighbourhood, “diluting” them with richer people.

The importance of community for low income people has been enormously underestimated by politicians and planners.  Community includes a sense of belonging, support networks, an informal economy, and easy access to health and social services.  For low income people community also includes a link to the geographical place where all of these relationships take place.  Middle class people have access to transportation so the link to their geographical community might not be as tight.  They can travel to other physical places to meet friends, get services and support.  But people with low incomes can’t afford bus fare and cars so their local community is crucial to their well-being.

The City says it wants low income people all over the city.  Assuming that affordable housing was available all over the city, which it isn’t, pushing people out of the DTES would still be hard on the displaced people.  How would they get to their services with no affordable transportation?  If services move, how will they serve a scattered population?  How will displaced people get to family and friends for support?  Will they feel a sense of belonging or of alienation?

In Memphis, when people in public housing were scattered throughout the city because their public housing was torn down, the infant mortality rate increased.  One article suggests that the reason for this is that low income people didn’t have the same access to maternal services that they had in their old, poorer communities.