STAND for Housing

Are you concerned about the increasing levels of homelessness in Vancouver?  What about the fact that the government is not keeping the social housing promise it made when it accepted the 2010 Olympic bid?

This Saturday, there is a big STAND for housing at the Vancouver City Hall. Here`s the link to the facebook event, in case you`re interested:

I’m really worried about the state of homelessness in Vancouver. For as long as I can remember, It’s been a problem, but recently it seems to have gotten worse. I went away for 9 months last year and when I came back it appeared even more visible than before. According to a Metrovancouver homeless count conducted last March, homelessness has increased 19% since 2005 and 137% since 2002. To add to this, Canada is the only G8 country without a national social housing program and a UN review declared Canada’s housing situation to be a national emergency.

During the first weekend of October, I went to a STAND for housing at the Little Mountain Social Housing Complex, which has been vacated by the provincial government. Silent stands for housing occur every Saturday all over the city and the province. The organizers were inspired by  “the example of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an association of Argentine mothers whose children `disappeared` under the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. They stood in a city square every week for years and their white scarves became an international brand for peaceful protests.” The STAND I mentioned above is just the latest in a series of STANDs that have been held every week since last February.

The STAND at Little Mountain was interesting. Many of the candidates running for major parties in the federal election were there (except for the Conservatives), as well as candidates from left-wing parties like the worker`s party and the communist party. There were people of all ages and it is was pretty inspiring to see how energized everyone was about advocating for the issue. I met a woman about my age who dealt with drug addiction as a child and had to live on the streets. Now she`s studying at a local college and actively involved in the local movement for housing.

I also learned that what`s happening at Little Mountain is a contentious issue. Little Mountain is BC`s oldest public housing project. It used to be an army base, when veterans broke in and occupied empty huts because they were dealing with a housing crisis in 1946. The Provincial government vacated the land earlier this year and plans to sell it to the highest bidder for a housing development. A handful of families remain behind in protest. The 200 families that left were placed at the top of a waiting list for social housing, pushing those previously at the top of the list farther down the line. Community Advocates for Little Mountain Housing complain that the new owners will build expensive market housing. Moreover, some argue that the land, which is currently public, will fall into private hands at the cost of the public`s well-being. One person told me that BC Housing has put sheets in the windows of the houses to make it look like people still live in Little Mountain. Apparently, they don`t want people passing by to know whats going on or that the complex is mostly empty.

Although I do think that there needs to be a more effective policy to deal with homelessness, I`m not sure about my position on what type of social housing our government needs to provide or what other forms of assistance it should provide. The people present at the event mentioned many issues, ranging from homelessness to the fact that its difficult for people with an average income to afford living in Vancouver proper.

Any thoughts?

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