Posts Tagged ‘homelessness’

Rambling on the DTES

May 7, 2009

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.

Sunday in the Downtown Eastside

April 20, 2009

Recently I’ve been thinking about starting a church. For those of you still reading, I’ll explain. First let me say that our current social institutions are very complex in their creative and sustaining powers. What I mean is, and I’ll use the church as an example, the institution makes us who we are in that it creates, at least part of, our consciousness, and then sustains, through the maintenance of a social environment, that consciousness. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that this is a good thing. I am an admirer of the church. That’s why I want to start one. But as somebody who desires social change, I recognize the need to change our social institutions. The church I have in mind will create a different consciousness.

The first, strongest, and pretty much only objection to change, or even criticism of the way things are done, is always the collapse of all that is good. Examples: Gay marriage – “What next people marrying their dog?” – “This will be the end of family!” Evolution(Godless creation) – “What will stop people from killing whoever they want?” There’s the idea that good and morality are so completely linked with God or the institutions He gave us that without the God-founded institution a sort of totally psychopathic existence would be unleashed.


So today I didn’t go to church, but what I did do was very similar. I went to Pivot’s Reel Justice Film Festival and snuck out for a bit to see the People vs. The City of Vancouver. Oddly enough what separated these Sunday events from church services was a social quality. Anyway, chances are I’m not going to start a church anytime soon, but there’s something here, there’s a thread.

I caught the noon showing of The Way Home. It started with a section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The first speaker was Native and talked about our ability to connect to the world through a house as a spiritual connection, a kind of gift from the Thunderbird (Just as an aside, I was at Judy Rebick’s book launch on Thursday (see sidebar for a short video clip) and she spoke of her new found understanding of indigenous peoples’ spirituality.) The documentary was crushing. One social worker breaks down talking about the causes of homelessness, and then at the end one homeless man answers the question, “What’s the hardest part?” and he says, “Tomorrow,” and starts to break down, “You never know what will happen tomorrow.” and he turns away, trying not to cry on camera. It was heartbreaking.


Carts of Darkness was a lot more light-hearted, at least on the surface. There was a lot of humour, joking around, friendship and good times. But when one man was joking about hanging himself, his friend says, that’s not really funny. The film is a celebration and a meditation of what it means to be alive on the margins. The cruelty of life on the margins comes through not long after the laughter stops.

The last film I saw was We Are All Key. Here’s the writeup from Pivot’s site:

We believe there are two sides to the homeless story. On one side of the homeless issue is the story of people and common decency. This side of the story focuses on the human right of people to have access to safe and decent housing in a civil society. The other side of the story is about common sense. It is about numbers. Studies from various cities show that taxpayers pay anywhere from $55,000 to $135,000 a year for someone who is experiencing homelessness. No matter how it’s measured, it cost less to provide these people with decent and safe housing. This short film is produced by Streetohome, a community-based foundation working to ensure that all Vancouver citizens have access to safe, decent and affordable housing by 2015.

This film made me want to vomit.

The People vs. The City of Vancouver

The following is from The People vs. The City of Vancouver’s Facebook page:

Synopsis: Since the Olympic Bid of 2003 the City of Vancouver has waged a violent war on the community of the DTES. While it boasts ‘revitalization’ and it’s ‘Civil City’ campaigns as progressive, such activities in fact terrorize and displace those most marginalized in our city. Community members have been literally forced onto the streets as homelessness has more than tripled in the neighbourhood. Once evicted from their homes residents are further brutalized with ticketing for sitting or lying on the street & asking for spare change among other by-law ‘offenses’. The City of Vancouver has literally criminalized the poverty it has created. The Community is fighting back!

Grand March For Housing

April 4, 2009

Grand March For Housing

Originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque

At today’s rally Jenny Kwan said, “Homelessness is not like cancer. There is a cure. It’s called, building affordable housing.” To get action on these few words is why thousands marched today.

(Lyotard says something about homelessness being solvable, but that solving the problem wouldn’t boost the systems performance, so there is no will)

The Grand March For Housing brought out an enormous crowd demanding immediate government action to build social housing, raise welfare and the minimum wage.

I’d like to mention this video, again, about Little Mountain Social Housing Complex. That over 200 housing units sit empty while people sleep on the street should not go unnoted. Alleviating the suffering of homelessness is as simple as accessing alreading existing buildings.

Here’s Press TVs coverage of the event: (link)