Since coming into office nearly a year ago, the Trudeau Liberals have done two things to address Canada’s housing and homelessness crisis: First, in the spring they issued a housing budget that makes a big show over a pittance of units of new social housing, which will not make a dent in homelessness, and; second, in the fall they staged another show – a Canada-wide consultation on Federal housing policy.
The stage of the consultation in Vancouver is cluttered with the very real estate developers, provincial housing budget axe sharpeners, “grassroots” NIMBY pro-displacement activists, and “innovative” supportive housing overseers who are responsible for the destruction and sell-off of social housing resources and Vancouver’s record-high homelessness numbers this year. Where are the homeless people who have been hand picked from tent cities to face surveillance and humiliation in supportive housing projects and back to the streets again? Where are those who face the hate of anti-homeless vigilantes when they are on the street and anti-poor landlord discrimination when they’re told the only offer the government will give them is an inadequate, time-limited “voucher” for rental housing that doesn’t exist? Where are the activists and grassroots researchers who know that “Housing First” is a failure, that free market real estate makes people homeless, it doesn’t end homelessness? They’re not at Trudeau’s good looking, do-nothing consultation. But “Landlord BC” is. The anti-poor zealot Michael Geller is. “Condo King” Bob Rennie is. And “BC doesn’t build social housing” Minister Rich Coleman is.
Trudeau’s housing consultation is a farce. We are delivering the same statement and the same demands today that we delivered to Minister Duclos when he last visited BC to announce this bullshit consultation. The only answer to Canada’s homelessness crisis is to tax the rich to build, every year, 77,000 units of social housing accessible to people at welfare and pension rates. And regular apartments, not institutional, medicalized, surveillance housing that diagnoses and punishes residents for being poor. Stop the consultations and research and build homes now.
Open Statement to Canada’s Federal Housing Consultation
Stop Displacement and End Homelessness by Building 77,000 Units of Social Housing every year in Canada
Dear Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Ministers responsible for housing and homelessness,
Today there is yet another meeting convened by government ministers to discuss housing in a country in the throes of a housing crisis. In your meeting will you declare that the policies your cabinets have developed over the last three decades have mushroomed homelessness? Will you denounce policies that have allowed tax cuts for the rich, while decimating life-sustaining social programs for the poor? Will you acknowledge the devastation this crisis has wrought on Indigenous nations?
Unfortunately we fear that you will not use this gathering to bring about the change required by homeless and low-income people.
While you are meeting in the comfort of your hotel, we the displaced, homeless, evicted, and low-income people who are living the housing crisis you have created, and we the housing and homelessness advocates, activists, and scholars, stand outside demanding real change. Together we are presenting you with our main demands. We believe these are the actions needed to end the housing crisis in Canada.
- Stop criminalizing poverty and displacing the poor
It has been decades since laws that directly criminalized the bodies of poor people were overturned. Since then all levels of government have developed a suite of laws that re-criminalize activities associated with poverty. The effect is almost the same. These new poor laws displace poor people out of the public eye to manage poverty so you don’t have to end it.
The penalization of poverty and homelessness must end. BC’s actions fail to recognize tent cities as places of safety, survival, and resistance against anti-homeless hate, police move-alongs, and bylaw officer harassment. They are essential spaces of survival as long as homelessness exists. Tent cities should be ended only by building enough social housing, ending the new poor laws, and stamping out the anti-homeless hate that make tent cities necessary.
In 2016, the United Nations called on all governments in Canada to repeal laws that penalize homeless persons for finding solutions necessary for their survival and well-being. We demand that you stop criminalizing and displacing the homeless. Stop displacing tent cities.
- End homelessness now
The homelessness crisis we have today is result of the thirty-year deficit of building social housing. Canada’s decision to gut social housing programs, beginning in 1993 with the end of regular social housing funding, has spiraled through the Provinces, as each one eliminated their regular social housing programs. This has left no one with the power to leverage the tax dollars needed to build the homes we need.
Current Federal budget commitments directed primarily towards shelters, support staff, renovation and maintenance of existing housing, and market subsidies will not end the housing crisis on Indigenous reserves or the homelessness crisis in cities and towns across Canada.
In this context poor laws, and stigma and hate leveled at people living in poverty have flourished, leading to the institutionalization and medicalization of social housing for people living in poverty. In BC thousands of tenants in so-called supportive and transitional housing have no rights under provincial tenancy law. Tent city residents and other homeless communities in Canada have rejected shelters and institutionalizing “supportive” housing projects and we join them in demanding that governments build the homes we need now.
We call on federal and provincial governments:
- To build 77,000 units of social housing at welfare/pension rates every year in Canada until homelessness is ended1; and,
- Build housing that respects and protects residents’ rights rather than institutionalizing people living in poverty.
Alliance Against Displacement
This statement has been slightly edited from an open letter delivered to Federal Minister Duclos when he visited Victoria BC in June 2016. Carnegie Community Action Project, Chinatown Action Project, Homes Not Hate Victoria, Pivot Legal Society, Super InTent City Victoria, and Together Against Poverty Society Victoria endorsed the original statement. Our ad hoc coalition never received a response to this open letter.