Rambling on the DTES

Jane’s Walk

Originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque

Jane’s Walk is held simultaneously in 11 cities across the country and this past year was a first for Vancouver. Inspired by Jane Jacob’s grassroots vision of the city and her belief that in order to know your city “you have to get out and walk,” Jane’s Walk is a simple idea. It is free, it connects people and builds communities by promoting urban literacy and citizen engagement.

This past Sunday, Wendy Pedersen took a group on tour around the Downtown Eastside. We were shown some of the community successes, and some of the failures. The failures must be properly dropped on the governments, federal and provincial, that let the people down. Political decision making in the past couple decades seems to have leaned more toward the interests of profiteering developers. The tour did show there’s still a whole lot of fight left in the DTES community.

There are empty lots the community wants a say in developing. (There’s one of the lots behind Wendy Pedersen in the picture above.) In a democracy would development be decided by people or profit? If you’re interested in learning more about the DTES community check out the Carnegie Community Action Project blog.

This is as good a place as any to write about Krishna Pendakur‘s talk at the Reel Justice Film Festival. During the festival there were two constantly conflicting lines about the issue of homelessness. The one line is that the issue is complex, or the solution is complex. And the other is the issue and solution are simple.

The issue can seem complicated by drug, family breakdown, mental health, youth, age, race and disability issues, but Krishna Pendakur presented the problem as simple and solvable. Quite simply, homelessness is an issue of high rents and low incomes. That the problem is growing, that more people in BC are becoming homeless is simply the result of government policy decisions.

In the early 1990s the federal government quit subsidizing rental housing builds and then the province followed that lead in the early 2000s. Another policy decision, the condominium act, allowed buildings to be more easily broken up for sale. This policy decision helped reduce the number of rental units available.

Pendakur sees the issue as solely the result of government policy. He said we can undo these choices; an election is coming. One group that’s trying to get the issue of homelessness on the political agenda is the Organizing Centre for Social and Economic Justice. They’ve organized a rally for this Saturday, May 9. It starts 1pm at Clark Park.

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