Society for Poor, Marginalized, Homeless Chickens (SPMHC) clucked for housing at City Hall

Cluck. A representative of the Society for Poor, Marginalized, Homeless Chickens crowed loudly at City Council this month. SPMHC reps Robert Bonner and Ayisha Faruk asked Council to expand the five freedoms for chickens to include poor, marginalized and homeless humans also.

A report to Council said 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 called on Council to spend $20,000 on a shelter for homeless chickens.

Feathers were ruffled when reps were put off by Council until 11 pm to speak, but they eventually had their chance. They expressed solidarity with homeless humans and suggested that more shelters and homes be built for humans quickly.

Chickens got their coops. The homeless got, well, to keep a few mats on the floors for now. Cluck.

Thanks to Lenore Herb for chicken photos and Scott for going to city hall in support of Robert and Ayisha.

New welfare warrant rule may be illegal

Alert: VANDU will march to welfare offices to stop this on Tuesday May 25th at 2 pm. Meet at the Carnegie Centre to join the march.

The provincial government has just passed a new welfare regulation that is probably illegal, will probably increase homelessness, and will definitely cause lots of turmoil for people on welfare who have outstanding arrest warrants.

People on welfare or disability got a little message with their cheque in March. It said: “If you have an outstanding warrant you may not be eligible for income assistance, hardship assistance, or supplements until the warrant is resolved. This applies to arrest warrants for indictable offences from any jurisdiction in Canada as well as arrest warrants under immigration and refugee protection act (Canada). If you have any questions or require more information, please contact your local employment assistance worker or call the ministry toll free at 1-866-866-0800. An information sheet is also available for your information.”

Doug King, a lawyer at Pivot Legal Society, says it is not clear how the Ministry of Housing and Social Development plans to get the names of people who have outstanding warrants. They may rely on what people put on their cheque stub. On the next cheque stub or the one after that, there will probably be an additional question asking people to declare if they have outstanding warrants for their arrest. Or, the Ministry may have a deal with the RCMP to provide a list. King thinks if they do, this might be illegal.

King says if people don’t know if they have a warrant out for them, they should write, “I don’t know” on the stub. If they know that an arrest warrant for them is out, they can go to see King at Pivot, 678 E. Hastings.

With Pivot’s help, people with outstanding warrants could decide to “waive in the charges” from another province. The problem with this is that BC courts will only accept these charges if the person pleads guilty. This creates an unacceptable situation where people have to plead guilty in order to get the welfare or disability payment they need to pay their rent and eat. To fight the charges legally you have to go to the province where they originate.

The new welfare law, unlike a previous version that the BC Supreme Court struck down in 2000, does provide funding for persons with outstanding warrants to travel back to their province of origin and deal with the warrants. However, advocates are concerned that forcing people to leave BC or face destitution will create extreme hardship for many. Arguably, the new law amounts to “exporting” those charged with even minor offences, leaving them with no means to return.

The province says that the rule applies only to “indictable” offenses but King says almost all criminal offenses are considered “indictable” unless the accused can show the Crown has specifically decided to proceed summarily. So the rule doesn’t just apply to “serious” offenses like murder, trafficking and assault as the Ministry says in its news release.

With everyone trying so hard to get homeless people off the street and into shelters, this could be another Ministry rule that simply puts more people out on the street by denying them the income to pay their rent. Back in 2002 the Ministry brought in a bunch of new rules like having to wait three weeks after applying for welfare to get your cheque, having to prove that you had earned thousands of dollars in previous years, etc. As a result homelessness doubled in the Vancouver region between 2002 and 2005.

Victory for low-income in New West!

New Westminster is the first municipality in Canada to adopt a living wage policy. On April 26th, the New West city council unanimously passed this resolution:

“That the City establish a Living Wage Policy that is tied to an hourly rate established each year by the Living Wage for Families Campaign; and,

That the Living Wage policy will apply to both full time and part time employees; and,

That there be no threshold in terms of dollar value of a contract or number of employees; and,

That the policy apply to persons that perform physical work on City premises and properties; and,

That staff bring back information to Council regarding implications of the Living Wage on contracted services.”

The Living Wage for the purpose of this resolution is $16.74 an hour which has been calculated to be what a family of 4 with two parents working would need to live an ok life. This is great news for people working to reduce poverty as it sets a good precedent for work in other places. ACORN, the Hospital Employees Union, First Call and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives are some of the groups that have been working on this.

The Downtown Eastside does not need social mix

City council members, business people and developers want to move richer people into the Downtown Eastside. They call this having a “social mix” or an “income mix.” They want more condos in the area. Some assume that people are poor because of their behavior. They think if poor people see more rich people, the behavior of the poor will change. They don’t know how hard it is to deal with deep poverty, homelessness, illness and addiction. Others assert that the DTES would be “healthier” if it had a “social mix” or an “income mix”.

Social mix policies are ok on new land where no one is displaced. But new research shows they are bad for low-income communities like the Downtown Eastside. Research shows that people in poor neighbourhoods are poor because they have low incomes. They aren’t poor because they are surrounded by other low-income people. Research shows that over the long term low-income people fare better when they can stay in their own neighbourhoods. If they are pushed into richer neighbourhoods they lose their friends, services and supports. Research also shows that richer people don’t automatically help the poor get better jobs and education. They often organize to push out the poor people and their services. And research is also showing that when the rich move into a poor neighbourhood there is very little genuine “social mixing.” What happens is more like clashing.