July 7, 2016

VANCOUVER, UNCEDED COAST SALISH TERRITORIES: This morning, Tuesday June 7th, activists with Alliance Against Displacement occupied the BC Housing office at Hastings and Gore with two demands for the BC Liberal government: 1) End homelessness by building 10,000 units of social housing every year, and; 2) Stop criminalizing and displacing the homeless, cancel the injunction and displacement threat against Super InTent City in Victoria.

This occupation is part of escalating actions in response to the homelessness and displacement crisis that must be treated as a state of emergency in British Columbia. Minister Coleman called people like us “whiners” who are not satisfied with the government’s action around homelessness. We are calling for whiners to unite to end homelessness!

Minister Coleman’s policy rhetoric hurts the poor

We are occupying a BC Housing office because BC’s Minister of Housing Rich Coleman is operating his ministry to manage and modify, not end homelessness. Coleman repeated claims that the BC Liberals’ $50 million a year for housing is “historic” are only true if history starts in 1993, during the rise of neoliberalism and austerity. Before that, starting in the early 70’s the government built about 2,000 units of social housing a year in BC and BC did not have a homelessness crisis.

The fifteen-year legacy of the BC Liberals is this year’s record high homeless count. The BC Liberals have created homelessness by cutting social housing starts. And they have caused homelessness by making welfare and disability rates too low to pay rent, by ending support for foster children abruptly at age 19, and by keeping minimum wage the lowest in the country.

Homeless and displacement crisis at record levels

The BC government should declare a state of emergency about growing homelessness, which is at the highest level ever measured in Vancouver and is growing in other parts of BC. In Vancouver alone this year, 1127 new people are officially counted as becoming homeless.

The amounts of money that provincial and federal governments have offered for social housing is paltry. $50 million this year from the provincial government will build only 250 units on city-owned land but there is no requirement that the units be for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.  And the $50M is for the whole province.The federal government will supply about $75 million this year, which is also for the whole province and would build only about 375 units IF it were all spent on housing.  In the best-case scenario, these new units would house half of those who were made homeless in 2015 but this would not scratch the surface of the homelessness crisis.

We are demanding the BC government build 10,000 units of social housing every year in order to end homelessness and, over the next decade, lift the over 100,000 people living in or on the edge of homelessness in BC into secure and decent homes.

Tenting in Coleman Country

The reality of homelessness in BC is vigilante violence, police harassment, social profiling, and danger. The life expectancy of homeless people is only about half that of other BC residents. If real estate speculators or MLAs lived only half as long as the average BC residents, action would be taken immediately, and it should be taken now to provide homes for people who are homeless. Instead of government action building housing, the most prominent response to homelessness are homeless peoples’ tent cities, which are both sanctuaries from the indignities and dangers of homelessness, and spaces of resistance anti-poor hate and discriminatory laws.

Victoria’s Super InTent City was created out of homeless peoples’ frustration with the daily move-alongs of the new “nighttime-only” camping rules in Victoria, which are now the norm throughout BC. Super InTent City stood up against Coleman’s attempt to intimidate them out of their community and into shelters. They fought for their independence against service providers who Coleman hired to micromanage their homes and lives. And they won the historic victory of beating the provincial government application for a displacement injunction. But Coleman’s tantrum against the tent city continues.

Last week, just before the Vancouver homeless count was released, the Province announced that they would apply for another injunction against Victoria’s Super InTent City. Armed with police calls “data” cooked up with a dedicated complaints line, spurious tales from the “Mad As Hell” anti-homeless hate mob, the fire marshall’s unachievable conditions, and turncoat middle class neighbours tired of the inconvenience of seeing the tent city, the Province is claiming that the tent city’s presence is causing public disorder.

But the real grounds for Coleman’s renewed injunction is the same logic that has him calling critics of homelessness “whiners”: he believes homeless people are second class citizens. For Rich Coleman, the inconvenience of housed, respectable people is more important than the livesof homeless people.

Make no mistake: the displacement of Super InTent City will cost lives. At the tent city in Victoria, where there is no supervised injection site, people access harm reduction supplies and a supportive and watchful community in the midst of an unprecedented overdose epidemic. But to Coleman and the BC Liberals, more important than ending homelessness or stopping overdose death is to break up the symbol of homelessness and homeless people’s dignity. We are demanding that the BC Government withdraw its application for an injunction to displace Super InTent City.