Housing on Library decision postponed for 4 weeks

“That was a dodge,” said Ivan Drury, resident of Strathcona, elected steering committee member of the DTES Neighbourhood Council, after Coun. Tim Stevenson made a motion at the beginning of the council meeting on Thursday Oct 7th to “look into” funding social housing on top of the new library on Hastings, but with “a catch”. The city would move ahead with a stand-alone library if the funding doesn’t come through in about 4 weeks.

About 40 DTES residents and supporters came out to city hall to demand social housing on top of the library. They were alarmed by a City staff report that recommended a stand-alone library despite community pressure over the last 6 months. No rationale was given for this decision in the report, even-though staff were instructed by council to look into this option last July.

Housing advocates viewed the staff report that calls for a stand-alone library as part of a pattern that proves the city is failing to address the loss of housing in the DTES, gentrification and homelessness. (Read CCAP’s letter to the Mayor and Council attached to learn more).

But even though council said they wanted “look into” funding, DTES residents and housing activists did not tone down their speeches and ramped up the pressure. Here is a little bit of what each speaker said:

Ivan Drury: “the feeling is zero representation at the city government and complete disenfranchisement and we have to fight gentrification on the street ourselves. This is the position we’re being pushed into. This is a fight site and if you do not approve housing on this site, we will fight you and we will beat you….It is a battle of belonging and working class people have always belonged in this neighbourhood. ”

Gladys Radek of Walk for Justice and family member of one of the missing and murdered women said: “In terms of the missing and murdered women, the one thing that is seriously lacking is the lack of housing….the city should be looking after us. Start protecting our women and children.”

Ann Livingston, founder of Vandu and Pivot, mother of 4 DTES children, said if you don’t follow through on this then “you are sending a strong signal to our community and anything less is going to look like a no.”

Dave Diewert of Streams of Justice said there were only 280 actual new social housing units built in BC in the last 5 years: “look through the smoke and mirrors of announcements and there is not much there…the DTES is the place and the priority to purchase land for housing…as an ally of DTES residents, I’m standing beside them on this.”

Tristan Markle, VANACT!: “we’re at a fork in the road… on one road council directs staff to find the resources and works day and day out to find the housing and end the gentry…down the other road, the community does what it always does, joins together to create a force more powerful.”

Fraser Stuart, a hotel resident who was formerly homeless and collected 1495 signatures on a petition for housing on the library with CCAP: I “spoke with my neighbours about the library. Most of them didn’t know about it. They said it’s a good place to go when it’s rainy and cold. What they need is homes. I met a woman, crying who said she would lose her children because she lives in a hotel. For 1.5 year she has been on the BC Housing wait list…If it’s a stand-alone library we don’t need it.”

Simone Nettles, mother, member of VANDU, talked about the need to replace the SROs: The hotels have “bedbugs, horrible bathroom conditions, human waste, vomit and blood. I’m paying $525 a month. I have $115 for the rest of the month to support myself. Children are not allowed in and as a mother, it’s really hard. I’m really angry. And I’m just one person. So many people will give up just about anything to have a roof over their head.”

Lorna Bird, President of Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction, said “my daughter is living in a shelter with her kids because there is no place for her to be at this point….I am First Nations and I talk for all my people. We need housing badly in the DTES.”

Richard Cunningham, board member of VANDU and elected steering committee member of the DTES Neighbourhood Council: I am tired of promises, promises, promises. I’m tired of being treated like a 3rd class citizen in a 3rd world country. There’s all this money at Olympic village. I don’t care about the politics of it but I do care about my brothers and my sisters. I have to worry about my health. I don’t want to sit on a toilet after 100 other people have. I worked on Woodwards for many years and look what we got: yuppies, yuppies, yuppies. You are spending money of frivolous things but hey, we are human beings, so treat us with respect.”

Laura Stannard of the Citywide Housing Coalition: This is a “symbol of push-comes-to-shove…. that arrives from enormous desperation and well founded fear that we’re losing the battle against unfettered drive for profit. The day and age that we let Rich Coleman or anyone in the provincial government set the agenda for what we want to do and plan in our city is really the day we don’t need a city government. I can say emphatically on behalf of CHC that the city needs to secure more property for social housing in the DTES. In order to stop the gentrification process that is literally killing DTES residents, it needs to curtail condo development until we have more social housing.”

Nathan Compton helped with tent village during the Olympics and is a member of VANACT!. He said about the motion to “look into” social housing “is not a generous and meaningful proposal. I have no confidence in this council and no credibility and I’ll go forward with my forms of engagement outside of the city process. We should have no faith in the future when you can’t guard and protect existing units. You gave a token 6 units at the American…meaning you approved the eviction of the tenants and the flipping of the building….You have no plan for after 2013 even though you know it takes 4,5,6 years to bring more housing on line. If you have no plan is then I’ll tell you what my plan and what our plan is. Our plan is to intervene directly into the failed process around the Olympic village. A tent city on the 1 year anniversary of the Olympics.”

Beth Malena is a Pastor living in Strathcona, who works with many low-income families in the area said: “I live 4 blocks away from the proposed library. I love books. I love reading….But there is something I love more than books. That’s my friends and neighbours in Strathcona and the DTES. Many of them need housing I’d happily give up my library so they can have roofs. But hey, there is a possibility of doing both, I can love books and my friends. It’s perfect. But it might take time. We might have to wait a couple of years. But if there is one thing that I learned about my friends…they have learned patience…yes patience is running out for housing….but we can be patient for a library….we can’t wait for housing.”

Stan Kupferschmidt, a Strathcona resident and Vanact!: “I see more and more people in my back alleys and clearly this is because people are being pushed out of their housing…As a newly attending member of the Strathcona Residents Association, I want the DTES to be healthy and safe for all….not just for a few fear mongering property owners. You know what you have got to do.”

Sir Scott: “I collected about 500 out of those signatures [on the CCAP petition]…we have to continue to work on what you promised these people. They are dying on the streets. I’m sick of this, you hold the power and you are doing nothing.”

Dave Murray, CCAP volunteer: “I have been homeless, lived in hotels, all the greatest ones, including the Balmoral….I’ve slept in a few doorways and parks and some laneways in Strathcona. This is really a no brainer. Carnegie Action wants you to buy 5 properties a year for social housing and you don’t even have to buy this one…..this would be 1 down and 4 more to go…If we could get housing above the library….I could actually live there and be among my people. Give a man a home, he has a chance to move forward and has his dignity.”

In the end, only Coun. Ellen Woodsworth argued and voted for including housing in the library (Coun Cadman was absent). Remaining city councillors voted to keep the library on schedule with an exploration of possibilities for social housing in the next 4 weeks. So, no guarantees. We’re not super hopeful. Likely we’ll get stuck with a political decision to have no housing on top of the library disguised as a technical decision about funding, timing and capacity on the site. Where to go from here? Stay in touch with CCAP to find out what happens with this campaign.