Housing and Homelessness

The housing crisis in BC is a serious justice issue. Thousands of people have no homes at all; they sleep outside (on the streets, under bridges, in parks, etc.) or in temporary shelters. They are the visible tip of the iceberg, and in BC number over 11,000 people. Just below the surface of the water are the “hidden homeless”, people who sleep with friends or family, in cars, or couch surf from place to place, nearing 40,000 people. Deeper under the water are those at risk of homelessness, people paying large amounts of their income for rent, numbering over 60,000 people. The housing crisis impacts a diverse group of our family, friends and neighbours, including: seniors, indigenous people, single parents, immigrants and those without citizenship status, women (especially those fleeing violence and abuse), working people, couples with children, people with disabilities, etc.

Streams of Justice (SoJ) emerged in early 2007 as the homeless counts in Vancouver were skyrocketing and people sleeping on the streets were becoming increasingly visible. This was a local and immediate issue of (in)justice that we needed to engage. We began by trying to understand why this was happening, and what were the systemic causes of increasing homelessness. As our structural analysis took shape, so did the need for action.

Over the years …

We have participated in and organized a large number of events and actions around the issue of housing and homelessness, including:

Vigils at Broadway and Commercial – performing tableaus and handing out leaflets about homelessness.

Squat on Main St – tented in a vacant lot which was supposed to be social housing. We had many supporters and visitors, including a UN official. We raise our hands up to all who made that possible, but especially to Noah Sakee and Dwayne Koe, two indigenous homeless friends who were key leaders in the squat, and who have since passed away.

Trouble in Paradise-Being Poor in a World Class City – multi-media presentation which highlighted the structural causes of homelessness, performed at numerous churches and other venues.

Vigil and Fast at City Hall – 5 days sleeping outside without food to raise awareness of the need for social housing.

Community Advocates for Little Mountain (CALM) – SoJ worked closely with this group as they fought the destruction of the social housing complex, Little Mountain.

Olympic Tent Village – along with the Olympic Resistance Network and the Power of Women, we organized a Tent Village during the 2010 Olympics. It was a powerful collective manifestation of self-determination by low-income and homeless people in the city, in the face of the power and spectacle of wealth and privilege evident in the Olympics themselves. In the end, dozens of people who stayed at the Tent Village got housing.

Gingerbread houses – The current mayor was elected on a campaign promise to end homelessness, and we presented him with 3,000 gingerbread houses on his first day in office to encourage him along this path. Unfortunately, he changed his rhetoric to ending “street” homelessness, and then opened up extra shelter beds during the winter months to make homelessness invisible rather than eradicate it.

Women’s Housing March – We have supported the Power of Women, an amazing group of women in the Downtown Eastside as they organize the annual Women’s Housing March. They continue to draw attention to the desperate need for adequate, safe and affordable housing for women, and their rallying cry for housing justice has become all the more pronounced against the background of the Pickton murders, the Missing Women’s Inquiry, and the profound violence endured by women in poverty, especially indigenous women and women of colour.

Social Housing Coalition – established to raise awareness of the housing crisis across the province and push for social housing and rent controls in the 2013 provincial election. We feared that the idea of social housing was being erased from public consciousness and the responsibility of the state to provide housing was being overtaken by market solutions, charitable initiative and highly institutionalized models of housing.

The fight for good, accessible, affordable, secure housing for low-income people will continue, and we’re committed to it. Homelessness was the first issue we embraced at SoJ, and unfortunately it’s still a central plank in the struggle for a more just society.

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