Municipalities across BC have authority to determine land use and zoning within their jurisdictions. Too often this authority is exercised in a discriminatory and stigmatizing way, which results in the denial of services to marginalized and vulnerable groups.
Bylaws, policies, and processes founded on discrimination play a role in perpetuating homelessness, risk of disease transmission (such as HIV and hepatitis C), overdose, and vulnerability to violence. They limit our collective ability to provide evidence-based health interventions for people with addictions in the midst of a public health emergency, and they result in the failure to provide shelter and housing services for people in need.
(Photo credit: @CanadianPM, National Housing Strategy press conference in Toronto, Nov. 22, 2017)
It was, ostensibly, a major announcement deserving of two simultaneous press conferences across Canada—in Toronto and Vancouver, where the housing crisis has crippled livability and quality of life for thousands struggling with (un)affordability. Alluding to transformative change, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in Toronto, and the Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, in Vancouver, unveiled Canada’s first-ever National Housing Strategy.
This was a hopeful opportunity to articulate and present a coordinated approach between all levels of government (municipal, provincial, federal) to address one of the most pressing issues in Canadian society today: homelessness and poverty. The ambitious plan parcels $40 billion in spending over 10 years with the goal of cutting chronic homelessness by 50%.
(Photo credit: National Housing Strategy, Nov. 22, 2017)
Though a step in the right direction, it falls short on a number of accounts; firstly, the timing: much of money will not beginning to flow until 2021 (after the next federal election). This ignores the cruel reality that people now, at this very moment, are suffering through a homelessness and housing crisis wherein thousands are living dangerously on the streets in the freezing cold without the basics of life. Many may not even survive to 2021 when government largess begins to fund shovels in the ground and mobilize services.
(Photo credit: Peter Kim, Anita Place tent city, Nov. 15, 2017)
We are representing one group of homeless individuals, at Anita Place tent city, who cannot wait three years for support and housing as governments haggle over funding agreements and allocation, which is part of the rationale for delaying the money. But others, see something else in this timeline:
(Photo credit: @drex, tweet, Nov 22, 2017)
Now to the substance of the Plan.
Housing Benefit for Low-Income Tenants
“Launching in 2020, the Canada Housing Benefit will provide affordability support directly to families and individuals in housing need, including potentially those living in social housing, those on a social housing wait-list, or those housed in the private market but struggling to make ends meet,” read the official Plan document.
(Photo credit: National Housing Strategy, Nov. 22, 2017)
This is essentially a rent supplement—money the government provides to help people who are struggling to pay their rent. The government estimates it will deliver an average of $2,500 per year to each recipient household.
But this benefit is contingent on provinces signing on and agreeing to contribute to the funding that will go to help individuals in need. There is no guarantee of financial relief for struggling families; and yesterday, even Ontario’s Housing Minister, Peter Milczyn, was shy on a firm commitment from his province. Premier John Horgan has yet to comment publicly on whether British Columbia will chip in to the funding agreement.
There are strings attached to the federal help. (Joanne Lee-Young, Vancouver Sun)
We also have concerns that with less than one per cent vacancy in major cities like Vancouver and Victoria, this benefit could drive up rents in the lower end of the housing market, leaving thousands who don’t qualify with higher bills. Subsidies, in theory, are beneficial as they afford people a measure of choice in where they live; but absent adequate social housing, a benefit such as this could artificially inflate the lower-end rental market, which would run counter to the spirit of the policy.
100,000 New Housing Units
The National Housing Strategy hopes to create 100,000 housing units through new initiatives like the National Housing Co-Investment Fund and the Canada Community Housing Initiative. This housing will be “sustainable, accessible, mixed-income, and mixed-use,” according to the federal government.
But this target may be too low. The Carnegie Community Action’s Project’s Our Homes Can’t Wait study reveals that British Columbia alone “needs a housing program that builds at least 10,000 units a year in order to meet the real need and end homelessness”.
(Click on graph for interactive data)Read more
(Photo credit: Peter Kim, Raise The Rates press conference, Nov. 1, 2017)
It’s a hollow victory to claim any measure of success in the recent welfare rate increase of $100. Now, someone on welfare receives $710 a month—much of that eaten up by the mandatory shelter allowance of $375 (rent). But good luck trying to find a stable place for that amount.
In a recent report, the Carnegie Community Action Project estimated the average rent in Vancouver for a Single Room Occupancy (SRO)—among the most basic of all living arrangements—was $548. Subtracting that from the monthly spending, leaves only $162 a month for the necessities of life.
Even with a $100 raise to welfare rates to $710 for a single person, it still falls hugely below the poverty line.” Kell Gerlings, Raise the Rates.
Raise the Rates, a coalition of community groups and organizations concerned with the level of poverty and homelessness in BC, factored modest allowances for transportation, personal hygiene, and communications into that $162 dollars and arrived at $79 a month for food (roughly $19 dollars a week). This is a whole $1.00 more a week than before the welfare rate increase.
(Interactive graph)Read more
Staff Lawyer - Homelessness
(Photo credit: www.victoria.ca, Reeson Park, undated)
Apparently, grass and vegetation are more important than the dignity and safety of people who are homeless. That’s the conclusion one could reasonably draw from the absurd bylaw amendment proposed by the City of Victoria—one that would impose time limits on park visitors such that individuals who shelter in parks would be required to uproot and relocate their belongings multiple times each day. While the bylaw change may seem to apply equally to all, the reality is that its enforcement will target homeless people and discriminate against those struggling with poverty.
The proposed change would limit the length of time a person could remain in one location in a public park to six hours. Regulating public space in this manner will force people who are homeless to collect their belongings and relocate multiple times a day—an imposition that is especially difficult for those who carry all of their possessions on their back or in a shopping cart. Even worse off will be those struggling with physical disability and illness. Effectively forcing a vulnerable population into an ever-transient existence exacerbates the harms and challenges they already face braving the elements 24-hours a day.
Currently, people in need of shelter in Victoria can set up a tent in a park and rest overnight provided that they pack up their belongings by 7 a.m.
When people wake up in the morning, all we are asking is that they move at least a hundred metres from the spot that they have camped overnight to allow that piece of earth to kind of revive,” Mayor Lisa Helps told CBC News.
This is the same rationale underpinning so many ill-conceived bylaws that further displace, destabilize, and marginalize an already vulnerable population by forcing them to move every six hours. It assumes homeless people have a place to go and the ability to move there, and betrays a lack of understanding regarding the realities of life on the street.Read more
Pivot’s work is grounded in the belief that poverty and social exclusion are not inevitable. Through our campaigns, our team focuses on making the possibility of a more just and compassionate society a reality. Our projects evolve from year to year, but our central mandate, to use legal tools and political advocacy to challenge laws and policies that intensify poverty and social exclusion, remains the same.
A change in government after 16 years has presented a unique opportunity to call for significant, systemic reform to British Columbia's ailing justice system—changes that will benefit the most marginalized in society along with Indigenous communities. The recommendations below are categorized into ten main priority areas and have been hand-delivered to BC's Attorney General, David Eby. We look forward to working with government and our supporters to realize this vision for a better British Columbia.
(Photo credit: Peter Kim, Premier John Horgan at NDP press conference, August 2017)
Fifteen years ago, BC’s new Liberal government dealt a debilitating blow to justice and equality when it decided to scrap the BC Human Rights Commission. Our province became the only one in Canada without an independent body dedicated to eliminating systemic discrimination and upholding BC’s Human Rights Code.
Earlier this month, the BC NDP announced its intention to fulfill their election promise to revive the Commission.
“Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of physical ability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” ~ Premier John Horgan
The BC Human Rights Tribunal is responsible for adjudicating human rights complaints brought under the BC Human Rights Code. Whereas the BC Human Rights Commission will work to address systemic patterns of discrimination and prevent violations before they happen. A Human Rights Commission’s mandate would likely include education.Read more
For Immediate Release
June 29, 2017
Vancouver, BC – Residents of Anita Place homeless encampment in Maple Ridge have filed court proceedings against the Province of British Columbia for leaving them with nowhere to go but the streets. BC is in the midst of is an unprecedented homelessness crisis. The 2017 Metro Vancouver homeless count revealed that there are more than 3,600 people homeless in the greater Vancouver area alone.
“On any given night, 35,000 people in Canada will be homeless; thousands will have no other option but to live in parks and other public spaces,” says DJ Larkin of Pivot Legal Society who is representing the campers.
For many, homelessness is an early death sentence. We know that homeless people have about half the life-expectancy as people who are housed. Ensuring that everyone in BC has access to adequate housing is the right thing, the smartest thing, and the cost effective thing to do for all British Columbians.
Despite the BC Liberal government’s promises to address homelessness in Maple Ridge, it cancelled plans to purchase or develop two housing facilities in the municipality. Then on May 31, 2017, the Province closed a 40-bed shelter—the only low-barrier shelter in that area.Read more