[URBANTH-L]NEWS: In Vancouver, More Homeless than Athletes in 2010
jancius at ohio.edu
Thu Jun 7 19:12:30 EDT 2007
From: Harsha Walia <harsha at riseup.net>
MARCH FOR WOMEN'S HOUSING, FRIDAY JUNE 8 AT 2 PM
STARTS @ DTES WOMEN'S CENTRE
(302 Columbia, corner Cordova)
JOIN WOMEN IN THE DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE TO DEMAND HOUSING NOW!
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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."
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
"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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