Homeless in the DTES: By Wendy Pedersen

donny-copyWhat happens to your tent and belongings when the cops take it away?  It took a lawyer and a long-time advocate to figure it out and get the possessions back for Donny Miller, a local homeless man.

Recently DJ from Pivot and Wendy, a housing advocate from the DTES, spent many hours tracking down and helping Donny get his stuff back from the “National City Yard.”  It involved many frustrating phone calls to the city, many failed attempts to connect with Donny and not being able to drop by and pick it up without an appointment.

Some of you may recognize Donny.  Donny is from Kaska Dene territory and he’s been living in the DTES for about 2 years, under the viaduct for a while (until it got too crowded and police started hassling them) and in the Arco Hotel for a short stint (full of bugs, awful he says).  In August 2013, Donny set up his tent in Oppenheimer Park.  It was perfect said Donny “until I got tired of putting my tent down every morning and then others set up their tents too.  It didn’t last long after that.”

It’s still illegal in Vancouver to sleep in tents in parks or on the street even though we’re in a housing crisis.  But, in the Victoria (City) v. Adams case that involved homeless people’s right to sleep in parks, the BC Court of Appeal and the BC Supreme Court found that it is unconstitutional to deprive homeless people of shelter when they have nowhere else to go.  Vision Vancouver dominated City Council has yet to change the Vancouver bylaws to reflect that decision.

If Donny can’t handle being warehoused in shelters or in SRO hotels (Donny said “the SROs drive me crazy”), he must fend for himself outside and out of police sight. Donny said that he was at a meeting recently where homeless people were talking about setting up a tent city. If that happens, we should all be there to defend their rights to shelter and safety. After being homeless off and on for 20 years, Donny says “I just want everyone to have a real home,” sweeping his arm wide. “A ‘real’ home.” If he got a good place to live, what would be the first thing he would do? “I’d get my mom to come and visit me. She’s always worried about me. She keeps telling me to get a place so she can come visit.”

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