When the Volcano editorial collective got together in April to plan this issue we had a different issue in mind than the one you’re holding in your hands. As the summer approached a theme imposed itself on us: the housing and displacement crisis in British Columbia has passed over to a new level – a summer of evictions has begun. Whether we are being evicted from our apartments in Burnaby after they are rezoned for condo towers, from the Downtown Eastside because the affordable SRO hotels are gentrified, or our tent city is being shuffled to a new site again by cops in Abbotsford, low-income communities from Abbotsford to Burnaby, Surrey, Vancouver, and Vancouver Island, are being displaced.
Tent Cities and other forms of collective survival tactics by communities who are grappling with displacement and homelessness together have popped up in communities throughout British Columbia. As we go to print the Maple Ridge tent city on Cliff Avenue has doubled in size as more homeless people seek safer places to be. News has broken that the City of Abbotsford is calling for the razing of the squatted mobile home park in Abbotsford (a spill-over from the Dignity Village camp on Gladys Avenue). On Vancouver Island, there are at least a half dozen camps in Nanaimo, which are shuffled continually around by bylaw officers, and in Victoria, the City is discussing trying to law-and-order dozens of campers out of parks. After 43 year-old Florence Jean Drake was found dead on the streets of Campbell River, her community set up a tent city in front of city hall. Meanwhile, rents in Downtown Eastside hotels continue to climb. These rooms used to be the default last-stop-before-homelessness, but now 23 hotels are renting all their rooms for more than $500/month – effectively shutting low-income people out. Wherever you go in British Columbia you will see people sleeping outside, visible markers that our long Eviction Summer has begun.
We’re also seeing tenants threatened by development fighting back. SFU students carved a small victory out of their eviction; Metrotown residents, with the Metrotown Residents Association, ACORN, and the Social Housing Alliance are mounting a strong fight in Burnaby to stop demolition of relatively affordable housing; manufactured home residents in Surrey are fighting back too. Several stories show how Indigenous people are fighting to save their land from development as an immediate front in their struggles for sovereignty. And the interview with Jagdeep Mangat shows that we need to build community and belonging to prevent the harms done to vulnerable people in Surrey by criminalized drug use, including violent deaths. With vacancy rates extremely low and rent escalating, we desperately need a federal-provincial social housing program that builds thousands of units of housing a year, but, as we point out in Housing First, federal money for Housing First can’t be used to build housing.
“The winter of our discontent” is a line from a William Shakespeare’s Richard III. As a metaphor, winter refers to the end of a cycle of seasons, the end of a bad period, which will finally give way to a spring, which will bring change, and a “glorious summer.” There are no signs that our long Summer of Evictions promises to end with September, but instead, with the autumn rains, the conditions of life for the growing numbers of homeless people may only worsen. An end to the injustice of homelessness clearly will not come solely through the passage of time, but must be brought about through grassroots action to evict instead the current austerity state and its inhuman “grow the economy” logic of profits over people.
As this issue’s cover illustrates, in the tent cities such resistance is fertile. In each place that sees the scourge of homelessness and desperate poverty (caused by a real estate economy that steals our homes and a resource extraction economy that steals Indigenous peoples’ unceded lands) and a scarcity of services for low-income people (caused by an ‘austerity’ agenda at every level of government in Canada) we also see the hopeful actions of communities coming together to fight back. These formations of community self-organization are not yet well defined or coordinated, but they are becoming stronger by protecting the individual needs of their most vulnerable members through taking action together.