Earlier this week, Premier David Eby stood in front of a million-dollar townhouse to announce his new affordability plan, “Homes for People”. Today, he is scattering the homeless population in Vancouver’s downtown eastside (DTES). This is not leadership — this is policing poverty.
Today marks the 7th encampment removal in the DTES in 8 years. The mass displacement began this morning when barricades were put up by police & street cameras rendered inoperable. Clearly, the intention was to keep the public eye away from this humanitarian disaster.
While tents & belongings are thrown into garbage trucks, people are being pushed towards packed shelters & dilapidated single-room occupancy (SRO) units. In SROs, people face overdoses, violence, assault & filthy conditions. People living on the street have repeatedly said they feel safer outside.
Premier David Eby says the encampment removal is necessary to keep people safe, but let’s be clear: moving people inside without fixing the deplorable conditions at SROs is unsafe & unacceptable. Everyone deserves dignified housing.
Today I asked the BC NDP to confirm there is dignified housing available for everyone being displaced in the DTES. They couldn’t. Citing close collaboration with the City of Vancouver, Minister Ravi Kahlon said 300 units would be coming soon. How soon you ask? Not until June.
Premier David Eby is scattering hundreds of people right back into a dangerous situation, while saying it could take months before housing becomes available. The BC NDP say they want dignified housing for these people, but evidently they want them off the street more.
BC’s Human Rights Commissioner, Kasari Govender, shared online that she was very troubled by today’s events. We have a housing crisis in BC and instead of addressing the root issues, we respond with disgust & stigma towards our province’s most vulnerable people.
Today’s encampment removal in the DTES demonstrates a catastrophic policy failure in British Columbia. Housing is a fundamental human right — we need Premier David Eby and the BC NDP to act like it.
In the same week that the Premier stood in front of a million dollar townhome and declared his housing affordability plan, he’s scattering the homeless population in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Just hours ago, people’s belongings were thrown in garbage trucks, street cameras were rendered inoperable, barricades were put up to keep the public away. It’s a complete erosion of public trust. The Premier promised to resolve this decades-old crisis in the Downtown Eastside. In November, he promised 90 temporary shelter units for the neighbourhood. The deadline’s passed, and those units are nowhere to be seen.
Today what we see is not leadership. It’s policing poverty. The sweeps have never worked. Year after year, month after month, people displaced without a plan and look where it’s gotten us — to today.
To the Premier, where does he suggest the most vulnerable people in our society go?
Hon. R. Kahlon:
Thank you to the member for the question. This is certainly a challenging issue. The city of Vancouver notified me this morning that they were going to move in and move on the encampment. We have been working closely with the city of Vancouver on housing, on related issues, on supporting people with mental health.
And I agree with the mayor that it’s not safe right now. The encampment on Hastings, in particular, is not safe. The fire risks are great. Many of the housing units that we have on Hastings have been at risk, with some of the fires that have happened. We know that there was a recent report from a not-for-profit that interviewed 50 women, and all 50 of had been reported to be sexually assaulted.
So we have been working with local government, in particular, but we’ve been working with not-for-profit partners to work with the individuals that are in the encampment. We have been able to house 90 of them, which was, I think, a positive thing. We estimated there were around 70 people that said that they would be interested in housing. We have shelter spaces open. I’ve been getting reports that people have been leaving the encampment and going to shelters spaces, which is positive.
We’re going to continue to work with the city to expand the opportunities. We have 330 additional units that are coming on by the end of June, 100 every month — 100 this month, 100 next month, 100 the next month. We have additional units coming this fall.
The city has been moving on some of the projects that we’ve already approved and saying: “You know what? We can actually add more density to those units, because we know the need is great.”
So all that work is happening, but it is a challenging situation.
No doubt it’s a challenging situation. It’s been a challenging situation for more than a decade.
It’s kind of shocking to hear that the mayor just called the Minister of Housing today. The rumors have been floating around social media for the last couple of days that this action was going to be taken.
The Premier has said that he’s worried about fires and the assaults that the Minister of Housing has pointed out. I agree, and I think we agree, that there are safety issues and concerns at the encampment, but the Premier also hasn’t mentioned the fires, the assaults and the disgusting conditions at the SROs in the province, which is part of the solution that this province has, apparently.
A man living on the sidewalk in Downtown Eastside said that he feels that he’s safer on the street. He said they face overdoses, violent deaths, assaults and filthy conditions in those dilapidated buildings.
The Premier says that this is a safety issue, but let’s be clear: rounding up people and moving them inside without fixing the deplorable situations in the SROs is not ensuring safety. Scattering people across the communities of the Lower Mainland isn’t making those most vulnerable people in our society more safe. The Premier wants dignified housing for people, but it appears that he actually wants them off the street more.
To the Premier. Can he confirm that there is dignified housing, like he promised, available today — not the end of June, today — for every person that is being displaced by this action in downtown Vancouver today?
Hon. R. Kahlon:
Again, thanks to the member for the question.
He is, he is correct. The challenges that are faced by many, especially around the Downtown Eastside, are decades in the making. It is a complex situation.
We are working with our partners, all partners, to find paths to get people into safe and adequate housing, so I’ll make a couple of comments. One, some SROs are not in great shape. We have SROs that are very old. The buildings are in tough shape, and we’re working with our partners to renovate, to make them safer. All that work is happening.
We know, over the long term, that we need to move away from the SRO model. That work has also begun. City of Vancouver, CMHC and B.C. Housing have been working together on what does that plan look like.
We also know, and the member will know also — activists will tell you — that for now, a lot of those SRO spaces are adequate housing for people. We, in fact, have activists come to us often to say: “An SRO building is going on sale. The province should buy it.” Because people understand, for the time being, it’s adequate housing.
Shelter spaces are available. We’re moving people into shelter spaces. I will say to the member…. I would say that right now the shelter spaces are safer than the encampment for people. Given the fires, given the increased crime, the shelters are a safer place for people.
Then, when they get into shelters, we assess their needs. From there, we move them into different housing units. We have housing units coming on in the short term, by June — 330.
We actually have hundreds more coming in the fall. We’re building the capacity as fast as we can to get people housed.