Herb Varley’s speech at city council

According to the laws and customs of Canada my name is Herb Varley.  But according to the laws and customs of the Nisga’a, my name is Gwin ga’adihl amaa goot.  I’m the President of the Board of Directors for the Downtown Eastside Neighborhood Council.  I currently live in the DEOD, in the York Hotel, which is in the process of being gentrified.  I hear that the plan is to turn the downstairs area into a restaurant with valet service.  That doesn’t bode well for us – those of us living upstairs.  The rent is already increasing.  I hear its going to go up another fifty bucks within the next couple of years.  And another thing that has changed since this new person has bought the hotel is that this is my front door key.  This is going to cost me fifty dollars if I lose it.  It’s a little fob.  Now I pay four and a quarter for rent.  So I only live off a hundred and eighty five bucks a month.  Or so.  So if I lose this key and I’ve gotta replace it that means I’ve gotta live off a hundred and thirty bucks for that month.  And if they increase the rent, that’s going to decrease my support.  Now actually I overstepped myself.  First and foremost I want to acknowledge the Coast Salish, the Tseil-watuth, the Musqueam, the Burrard Nation for allowing every single person in here including myself, that is not from one of those territories, to live in their land.  I say that because I don’t believe that they are the owners of the land.  The crown isn’t the owner of the land.  The province isn’t the owner of the land.  We all borrow it – we borrow it from our great grandchildren.  And if we continue at the pace that we’re going right now, we’re going to run out of resources.  And we cannot continue to to overmine our resources.  We cannot continue to displace people.  It is the same…you know…if you think of the Downtown Eastside as a reservation, you know, originally people got put there because it wasn’t deemed valuable enough.  Because that’s what they did to us in the reservations.  They put us in the shittiest tracts of land where you could not do any farming.  Now people are realizing that in some of those reservations there’s gold, there’s uranium, there’s oil sands.  So now we’re getting kicked out because they want our resources.  That is not right.  You know I have no problem with providing young students and young workers with housing.  Because when I get back on the workforce I’m going to be a young worker myself.  But you know I do have a problem with taking it from people who are one step away from homelessness.  We cannot do that.  When we ask for help from the city, the city cries “poverty!”  Mr Mayor, if you’ve got money for hockey you’ve got money to help the poor.  Straight up.  I recently have, I’ve been courting a lady-friend.  For a while.  She’s leaving for the very same reason that I’m down here.  The city’s too expensive to live in.  Now that might not matter to you, but it matters a lot to me.  I do a lot of volunteer work with youth.  With the DNC.  Typically with people that are either a lot younger than me or a lot older than me.  So I don’t really meet too many people my age.  So any connection that I lose is devastating.  And if you send people – if you force people out to Surrey, if you force people out to New West with this gentrification, without the support that they have down here, people are gonna die.  And they’re gonna die horribly.  People are gonna die and people are gonna go to jail.  But I guess that that’s already been taken into consideration because in Burnaby they are building a two hundred and fifty unit remand center.  Remand is just where you wait to go to trail!  Why do we need a two hundred and fifty unit remand center?  You know…just a ten percent guarantee of social housing?  You know…if we have sixty units, fifty of them are condos.  I mean forty of them are condos.  Ten are social housing, ten are at welfare rate.  We have a hundred and fifty people a night sleeping in First United Church.  Ten units is not enough.  And that’s just the people in First United Church.  For every one person in there there’s probably three out on the street.  So what is that?  Four hundred and fifty people?  You know…that is not right.  You know you, myself included, every single one person in here that is not Coast Salish is a guest in this land.  It is about time that we start acting like it.  You know I don’t acknowledge that because it makes me feel good, you know, but I don’t go into another person’s house and reach in the fridge without introducing myself.  I view this Pantages project as a Trojan Horse.  You are doing it under the guise of a gift.  You’re gifting it to the low-income community.  But the social mix that my friend Karen was already talking about has tremendous psychological and emotional effects on us.  If we lose our connection to the community it makes it that much easier for me to Rob and Steal from my neighbor.  It makes it that much easier to pass by a native man who is passed out on the street.  You know, whether he is drunk or not that does not matter, that is a human being passed out on the street.  And you do not walk past a human being and let them die.  You don’t.  Every single one of you in here should be ashamed of yourselves.  You should be ashamed of yourselves.  You know if I got my full – my full support check, I’m supposed to live off of seven and some change a day.  That’s the price of a coffee and a Scone at Starbucks.  How many of you do that every day?  How many of you do that every day?  Right?  That’s what I’m supposed to live off of for an entire month.  That’s supposed to clean me, clothe me, bathe me transport me, and I don’t even have a kitchen in my room.  So I’ve got to eat out and that takes a lot of money.  And you know, when I go do temp labor and I earn, you know, fifty sixty bucks here and there and the ministry wants to take that back penny for penny that’s stealing!  You know, that’s not helping me, that’s stealing! People portray the Downtown East as a violent community and I would agree.  But not in the way that you think.  When I walk down the street and the police harass me just because I’m young and I’m brown, that is an act of violence.

Displacement is an act of violence.

Silencing and marginalizing people is an act of violence.

I hope you were listening.  I hope you were listening.