58 West Hastings, the giant empty lot across from Army and Navy, has seen a lot of action in the last few months. Not with bulldozers breaking ground for luxury condos that Concord Pacific plans to build on that site, but with tent cities.
In February, homeless campers and their supporters set up a makeshift Olympic Tent Village and by the end of the Olympics, about 40 homeless people were housed along with the promise that supporters would pull out from the site. But even though the kitchen, stage and signs came down, that wasn’t the end. The campfire kept burning and the homeless kept coming.
A few weeks later, 10 big notices were posted along the fence by the City of Vancouver and Concord Pacific. They said that the owner, Concord Pacific, needed to remove campers from the property according to city bylaws. Thus began the negotiations to clear the new group of homeless campers from the site.
In exchange for agreeing to move everyone off the site, the Portland Hotel Society found rooms and apartments for virtually all homeless campers in one intense day; 40 people got housed in total. One woman, who in my view was one of the most stable campers there, refused to take an apartment and a few days later was “committed” by a doctor, taken away by police to St Paul’s but was immediately released as doctors at St Paul’s did not agree with the assessment.
Other than getting a few good apartments, did anything else good come out of this? Concord Pacific may be getting the idea that it is not a good idea to build luxury homes in a neighbourhood where people are living in tents.
Another benefit –the homeless in Vancouver are more emboldened to speak up for themselves. In the lead up to move out day, the word spread quickly and a few homeless people from shelters joined the camp in the hopes they would get inside too. Although some may think this is opportunistic and unfair, I say it’s a really good sign. Tenting is seen as a pretty effective strategy now. Camp in the open, bring in the media, work with supporters and bingo, BC Housing takes action. Homeless people can take bold steps to push our governments to deliver some short term relief.
When shelters close on April 30th, perhaps we’ll see this lesson applied again. First United, the Aboriginal shelter, the Stanley New Fountain and the Granville Street Shelter are all slated to close because of lack of support from Housing Minister Coleman. Well, keep your eye out for more tents. And watch for your opportunity to lend a hand. We may need your help.