Continuing the fight for Homes Not Jails: By Super InTent City Council
The political power of homeless people at Super InTent City won hundreds of new transitional and permanent social housing units in Victoria. While “My Place”, a 40-bed shelter, is set to close at the end of May and “Mt Edwards”, a 38-bed housing facility is currently up for rezoning under NIMBY attack, many SIC residents continue to fight for dignified housing at the PHS-run Johnson Street Community Project, and for the rights of homeless people and those living in supportive housing. Residents report PHS’ efforts at thwarting their political organizing including the latest comments by Andy Bond, Senior Director of Housing, that the PHS Residents’ Council meetings were cancelled due to low turn-out. The Residents’ Council meets weekly without PHS management and released the following statement and demands this week.
We agreed to move from tent city to 844 Johnson Street on the promise that housing would improve our living conditions not make them worse. We were promised that Portland Hotel Society (PHS) would offer us *different* housing than the institutional, supportive housing we had experienced in the past. We were promised inclusion in decision-making about building operations and policies. We were promised job opportunities. We were promised community kitchens where we could make our own food. We were promised storage for our belongings. We were lied to.
Under the management of PHS, our health and wellbeing has been in steady decline and we demand immediate action to reverse this reality. This building was designed as an institution to house sick and elderly people and it is inappropriate for housing. We are concerned that the water quality, food safety, and environmental quality is substandard. Many of us have experienced getting sicker since getting housed.
Our privacy is being violated. Before we moved in, the doors were taken off the washroom in our suites. We (and our guests) do not have privacy to use the washroom. The common washrooms on each floor are locked resulting in people inappropriately using our common showers to shit and piss.
We are suffering extreme criminalization. It feels like we are living in a jail and our rooms replicate jail cells. We have to ask permission to enter and exit our home. We are under constant surveillance with video cameras on every floor. Information about us is shared without our consent to police and the Ministry of Social Development.
Police presence in and around the building is almost daily. We have witnessed police and PHS management escalating mental health crises. When SWAT comes in our building, we are locked in our rooms or on our floors. Residents are being triggered by police and exhibiting post-traumatic stress responses from personal histories of dealing with police violence and repeated incarceration. Several of us have experienced PHS provoking us and then charging us with mischief or assault, resulting in court-ordered conditions that limit our freedoms.
PHS’ guest policy is unreasonable and discriminatory against people who are homeless and living in poverty. The requirement of ID from our guests ignores the barriers faced by homeless people in getting ID and it is a violation of privacy for PHS to collect the other type of personal information they collect in the absence of ID. We are experiencing social isolation as a result of not being able to have our family and friends over. We have reviewed decisions made by the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) on guest policies in other buildings and in several cases the RTB found that guest policies that restrict hours for guests and/or require guests to show identification breach section 30(1)(b) of the Residential Tenancy Act. We sent a letter to PHS management about these concerns on December 14, 2016 and we were ignored, yet again.
At tent city, we created our own communities and experienced belonging and control over our own lives. Under the management of PHS, our choices, ideas, and participation are ignored and disrespected. For instance, we have developed a Residents’ Council with representation from every floor and we are written off and ignored by management. We are never consulted on any decisions in the building.
We are renters who have tenancy rights under the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) and we expect these rights to be respected. We are using legal mechanisms to challenge PHS’ violation of the RTA, but we need the public’s help in pushing the following immediate demands of the Portland Hotel Society.
As residents of the Johnson Street Community Project (844 Johnson Street), we demand that PHS immediately:
- Recognize the legitimacy of the Residents’ Council and work with us to improve the homes and lives of building residents.
- Throw out the current guest policy and work with the Residents’ Council to develop a policy that works for people who live in this building.
- Ensure access to common rooms and common washrooms on each floor for us and our guests.
- Make available areas for us to prepare and cook our own food.
- Make available secure, storage space for our belongings.
- Show residents proof of independent water, food safe, electrical, asbestos, and environmental testing to ensure quality is up to standards.
- Remove ALL video cameras and recording devices in the building.
- Stop calling police for health issues (e.g., mental health issues). Management and staff should be trained in non-violent crisis intervention. Police presence results in arrests, forced confinement, and charges, NOT help.
- Only permit police entry to the building when: 1/ staff and residents call for help in emergency situations; 2/ they have a warrant for someone in hand (as opposed to waiting outside someone’s unit until they get a warrant); 3/ they are in fresh pursuit, or they see someone commit a crime and take refuge in our building.
- End the collection and sharing of our personal information with police and ministry workers.