Standing, Walking, and Flying for Social Justice: By Harold Lavender

Raise the Rates walk for welfare group in front of Mt. Pleasant Neighbourhood House (pic. p0stcap)
Raise the Rates walk for welfare group in front of Mt. Pleasant Neighbourhood House (pic. p0stcap)

It is election time. Will the urgent needs of the low-income community in the DTES (and elsewhere in B.C.) to raise the rates and build social housing NOW be met? Nothing will change for the better unless we organize, stand up, and make our voices and presence loud and clear during the campaign and afterwards.

The Social Housing Coalition of B.C. and Raise the Rates are working hard to get the urgent needs of the community onto centre stage.

Raise the Rates organized A Walk for Welfare Justice on March 27th to highlight its long- standing demands for a major hike in welfare rates. Some people showed their determination by walking all 14 kilometres from Christy Clark’s to Adrian Dix’s office. Around 75 people participated in some part of the action. Fortunately the weather was beautiful and the spirit was strong.

Our banner was a social safety net badly ripped by over a decade of B.C. Liberal government policies.  Marchers chanted, “Most Expensive Lowest Rates,” highlighting how low welfare rates make it impossible to live a dignified and healthy life in Canada’s most expensive city. We also repeatedly called out “Tax the Rich and the corporations” in order to Raise the Rates.

Most of the feedback from people on the sidewalks was very positive. More and more people are understanding that you shouldn’t force 180,000 people to live on so little money.

Speakers talked about their own direct and harsh experience about what not having enough money means and having to wait five weeks to get on welfare.

We delivered a letter for Christy Clark but there was no response, an indication the Liberals are not about to change their governing-for-the-rich ways. NDP leader Adrian Dix had the decency to meet us and listen to what we had to say. He acknowledged B.C. is Canada’s most unequal province. But he refused to make any firm commitments.

Carol Martin speaking in at a Social Housing Coalition rally at the Hotel Georgia (pic. p0stcap)
Carol Martin speaking in at a Social Housing Coalition rally at the Hotel Georgia (pic. p0stcap)

Forty-four groups have now endorsed the 6 demands of the B.C. Social Housing Coalition, with more endorsing every day. STANDS for social housing continue to take place every Saturday in the Lower Mainland and in other areas of B.C. Thousands of leaflets have been handed out to raise public awareness about the need to build housing to resolve the dire housing emergency in B.C.

During the campaign we want to dog the politicians to make sure they can’t ignore our needs. Drawing on a tactic from labour and other struggles from the past, we have organized flying squads to show up at events and fundraisers (for the well-heeled)  to make our point to both the Liberals and the NDP. The response from rich Liberal backers and more senior staffers ranges from indifferent to hostile. We have so far been polite.

But we stepped it up a little on March 21st when a number of Liberal cabinet ministers came to the Hotel Georgia. We blocked one of the entrances. About 50 people showed up on short notice. Speakers addressed social housing, welfare rates, widespread poverty and homelessness among migrants, the recent disgusting filmed-for-reality-TV deportation raid, and the very disproportionate number of indigenous people in poverty off and on reserve.

We chanted “ Tax the rich to house the poor, social housing now.”

Our reception at NDP functions has been more sympathetic. Many NDP members think their Party is for social housing, and seem surprised when we point out the NDP to date has refused to make any meaningful commitments to build social housing if elected.

The few hints or quotes we have gotten out of Adrian Dix are not encouraging.

“The problem [poverty] in B.C. is so much larger than social housing. We can’t afford a single big box solution like housing that would help only a very small and specific group.”

About rent controls, Dix said,  “The main challenge we have is a huge shortage of rental housing. We can’t do something that will discourage developers from building rental housing in this province.”

We are not going anywhere. We’re in it for the long haul and we will be back to press our demands even after the election.

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