[URBANTH-L]NEWS: In Vancouver, More Homeless than Athletes in 2010

Angela Jancius jancius at ohio.edu
Thu Jun 7 19:12:30 EDT 2007

From: Harsha Walia <harsha at riseup.net>

(302 Columbia, corner Cordova)


In response to the growing violence of poverty and homelessness, women in
the Downtown Eastside and the Power of Women to Women Group are joining
together to organize for and demand safe and long-term affordable housing.

According to the 2005 GVRD Homelessness Count, there has been an increase
of 60% in the number of homeless women since the 2002 Count, with shelter
beds available for no more than 50% of homeless women. Cuts to income
assistance, legal aid, women's centres, attacks on women's advocacy and
support services, the lack of childcare support, rising costs of living
and housing, and low-income work all have had devastating impacts on
women. Overall, the number of homeless people has doubled to approximately
2,174 people in 2005. It is estimated that the rate of rapid gentrification
leading to the Olympics will triple the number of homeless in Vancouver.

This march is also being organized in solidarity with our sisters in the
Women Against Poverty Collective in Toronto, who on June 3 are organizing
a housing takeover in Toronto to draw attention to the links between safe
housing and women's ability to live free from violence. We are joining
together from Toronto to Vancouver to demand that safe, long-term
affordable housing for women be made available immediately! We encourage
and hope that all our supporters will join us.

ORGANIZED BY POWER OF WOMEN GROUP (group of homeless and
poor women; most of us live in extreme poverty and are 
sex workers, drug users, single mothers or with our children apprehended,
transgendered womyn, and/or survivors of violence). For more information,
contact us at DEWC at 604-681-8480 x 234 or email us at project at dewc.ca.

Related Article:


More Homeless than Athletes in 2010: Can Vancouver's Olympic pride be saved?
By Monte Paulsen
Published: May 28, 2007

"When the world arrives in Vancouver in 2010, what kind of city will they 
find?" asked Mayor Sam Sullivan in his inaugural address.
They will find a city in which there are more homeless Canadians shuffling 
in the shadow of BC Place than Olympic athletes parading inside the 
Vancouver stadium.
That's the conclusion of a three-month investigation by The Tyee, which 
found that unless Mayor Sullivan and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell radically 
reshape their response to North America's fastest-growing homelessness 
crisis, the number of Greater Vancouver homeless will easily exceed the 
5,000 athletes and officials expected to participate in the 2010 games.
And it could get worse. If affordable housing continues to erode throughout 
the region at the rate it has during Vancouver's recent SRO buying binge, 
there could be twice that many. Should that happen, there would be one 
homeless person for each of the 10,000 members of the international press 
corps expected to encamp at the new $800 million Vancouver Convention and 
Exhibition Centre.
During the coming days, The Tyee will publish articles that explain:
How the sudden loss of Vancouver's residential hotels accelerated a crisis 
that had been growing since Gordon Campbell's BC Liberals slashed welfare 
Why Housing Minister Rich Coleman's bold expenditure of more than $100 
million provincial tax dollars will deliver very little additional housing
How local and provincial taxpayers could wind up spending more money taking 
care of the homeless than building Olympic venues
Why Mayor Sullivan's elaborate plan to privatize social housing is an 
untimely gambit that appears to have distracted his administration during a 
pivotal time
Where neighbourhood NIMBY groups have stalled the construction of sorely 
needed supportive housing
What governments, business, non-profits and Olympic organizers must do this 
year in order for Canada to avoid a lasting legacy of shame in the wake of 
the 2010 Winter Games

Today: A look at the numbers.  Over 2,200 homeless now

On March 15, 2005, a team of social workers counted 2,174 homeless people in 
Greater Vancouver.
Starting at 5:30 in the morning, they scoured shelters, drop-in centres, 
parks, and other locations frequented by the homeless to produce The 2005 
Greater Vancouver Homeless Count. The total number of homeless doubled since 
the previous count in 2002, from 1,121 to 2,174. More than half (1,291) were 
found within the City of Vancouver, followed by Surrey (371) and New 
Westminster (92). (A map of their findings is here.)
"All counts underestimate homelessness, because of the difficulty in finding 
those who do not use services or spend time where homeless people 
congregate," wrote the report's authors. Also, the one-day count did not 
consider people sleeping in detox facilities, recovery houses, hospitals or 
sofa surfers -- even though many of those residents have no fixed address. 
"Thus, the Homeless Count did not enumerate every homeless person in the 
region on March 15, 2005, and is an undercount."
But while the report does not claim to offer a complete count of 
homelessness, it does provide an accurate survey of the region's homeless 
population. Among its findings:
More homeless people were found on streets than in shelters; the number of 
street homeless rose by 235 per cent since 2002.
People of Aboriginal identity accounted for 30 per cent of the region's 
homeless population, while making up only two per cent of the total 
When asked why they were homeless, 44 per cent cited lack of income, 25 per 
cent named addiction or other health conditions, and 22 per cent blamed the 
high cost of housing in Greater Vancouver.
Less than half of those counted had a steady income source. The rest 
survived on income from panhandling, bottle collecting, casual employment, 
or illegal activities.
Nearly three quarters reported chronic health conditions, such as addiction, 
mental illness or physical disability. Addiction was the most common; almost 
half of the homeless who responded to this question reported problems with 
When asked which municipality they considered their last permanent home, 75 
per cent reported somewhere in Greater Vancouver. Another 8 per cent 
reported their last permanent home was elsewhere in B.C., 15 per cent 
reported a location elsewhere in Canada, and one per cent reported a 
location outside Canada.

The next Greater Vancouver count will be conducted in 2008.

'Unprecedented demand'

Local counts have found higher numbers of homeless.
Judy Graves coordinates the Vancouver Housing Centre's award-winning tenant 
assistance program. She's worked in the Downtown Eastside since 1979, and 
has spent much of the last decade trolling the city's streets, parks and 
alleys for people in need of housing.
Graves conducted her own count in 2005. Using the same methodology 
biologists use to count wildlife, she found up to twice the number of 
Vancouver street homeless enumerated in the one-day count. Her next report 
is due late this fall.
"There are a couple of neighbourhoods in the City of Vancouver where I 
believe we're seeing a decrease in the number who live outside overnight," 
Graves said. "In other neighbourhoods, especially outside of the urban core, 
we're seeing quite an increase in the number of homeless on the street."
The undercount may be even more dramatic in smaller communities. Like most 
suburban municipalities, Port Coquitlam has no service center at which 
homeless people would congregate. Not surprisingly, the 2003 regional count 
was able to locate a mere 10 homeless people in PoCo, and the 2005 count 
found only 35.
Then, last summer, a new service organization began working in the area. 
Within months, the group had identified 177 homeless in PoCo.
"I think the situation is comparable in Burnaby and Surrey," said Diane 
Thorne, an MLA who represents the Coquitlam-Maillardville riding and also 
serves as housing critic for the New Democratic Party. She estimated that 
the actual homeless population in Greater Vancouver's suburban communities 
is "10 times" the 2005 count.
Thorne noted that B.C. does not conduct a province-wide homeless count. The 
best available statistic is that between October 2005 and April 2006 a 
record 28,922 people were turned away from B.C. shelters.
"There is an unprecedented demand for shelter services, not only in 
Vancouver but across the province," Thorne said. "There have been enormous 
increases in long-term and repeat users."
Disappearing rooms
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the Vancouver homeless epidemic is 
deeper than the 2005 numbers suggests.
"Rooming houses and hotels are falling like flies," said Jean Swanson, a 
veteran Downtown Eastside activist now with the Carnegie Community Action 
Twenty-two residential hotels were sold in 2006, with a combined total of 
1,178 rooms. By adding the number of rooms from which tenants were evicted 
to the number from which tenants were forced out by rising rates, Swanson 
counts 600 low-income rooms lost during the same year.
"If we lose 600 more this year, another 600 in 2008, and 600 again in 2009, 
that's 2,400 units of low-income housing likely to vanish before the 
Olympics," Swanson figured.
Likewise, intake workers at social housing centres report much longer 
waiting lists.
"It's just depressing," said Mark Townsend, who directs the Portland Hotel 
Society. "You feel like Solomon cutting up the baby, yeah? Shall you take 
this guy who's a problem tenant and no one will have him, or that one who's 
in a wheelchair and stuck somewhere?"
"We have just flat run out of empty rooms in Vancouver," Graves agreed. 
"We're at zero vacancy rate in those little rooms that were the last housing 
refuge for people. Anybody who's in the street now is going to have a 
precious hard time finding a place to go."
Homeless shelters are overflowing, despite the addition of 181 new shelter 
beds since 2000. The Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, a daytime drop-in 
facility, was pressed into service as an emergency shelter last November --  
and an average of 50 women continue to sleep there every night.
And outreach workers are reporting more rough sleepers. The Vancouver Area 
Network of Drug Users, which operates nightly street patrols, is not only 
seeing more addicts on the streets, but is losing its own members to 
homelessness as well. Whereas only one-tenth of its members were without 
shelter as recently as 2002, now one-quarter of Vandu members are homeless.
"It's more dire, for sure," Townsend said. "Much more dire."

More homeless than athletes

After more than a dozen interviews with these and other housing experts, The 
Tyee has concluded that unless the city and province begin construction of 
additional supportive housing this year, there will be an estimated 5,600 
homeless people living in Greater Vancouver by 2010.
There are two components of this projection:
The Vancouver count will triple to 3,800. In the fall of 2006, Pivot Legal 
Society forecast that Vancouver homelessness will triple by 2010. No 
credible rebuttal to that forecast has emerged. And after weighing the 
number of new units BC Housing currently plans to open in the next few years 
against the accelerating loss of existing SRO rooms, The Tyee concluded that 
the zero vacancy rate will remain and Vancouver's most vulnerable residents 
will continue to be displaced.
The regional count will roughly double to 2,000. It appears likely that the 
2005 snapshot undercounted suburban homelessness by a greater margin than it 
did Vancouver. Also, as part of anti-drug efforts, some suburban 
municipalities continue to raze drug houses, bulldozing affordable housing 
in the bargain.
Swanson, Thorne and a few others regard The Tyee's projection as too low.
"If the attack on the rooming houses continues, I think we'll see much more 
than that in Vancouver," Swanson said.
"I expect regional homelessness to triple, at a minimum," MLA Thorne 
predicted. "I hope I'm wrong about that."
Graves, Townsend and others thought the number was accurate, or a bit high. 
Graves offered perspective.
"As recently as 15 years ago, there was no street homelessness in Vancouver. 
We did have shelters. We did have the odd coot," Graves said. She believes 
that Vancouver could vanquish homelessness again -- within a few short 
years -- if political leaders made it a priority.
"The causes of homelessness are complex," Graves said. "But the solution is 
kindergarten simple: Build supportive housing." 

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