Homeless will start Tent City to Demand Shelter

For Immediate Release, April 12, 2010

Homeless representatives from the Aboriginal Central Shelter on Central Street announced their intention to start a tent city if their 100-bed shelter closes, on April 20.

“We’ll try to stay here otherwise we’re going to the parks,” says Stuart Fraser, a resident of the Central Shelter. “People with poor mental health should not be living on the street. The cost of decent housing is ridiculous. It’s just wrong. ”

“We did our share, we worked, our relatives here in BC worked too and put their share in. We should not be put aside because we’re 45-50 years old and have trouble getting work,” said Kari Koivu, a resident of the Central Shelter. “They put so much into the Olympics. We should at least have support to live at the poverty line.”

“The same thing happens again and again. We all need this shelter,” says Dave, a resident of the Central shelter. “Shut it down and we go right back to sleeping outside. Like a circle that goes round and round.”

Members of the public are being asked to sponsor 100 red tents to go to Central shelter residents forced to live on City streets and Parks as a result of the shelter closure. More than 600 people face living on the street if planned HEAT shelter closures proceed. A coalition of housing organizations is calling on government to keep the shelters open.

“Rich Coleman needs to stop trying to force the City to pay the bill, and go after the federal government,” said Rider Cooey, of the Citywide Housing Coalition. “The City has no money, and it’s the federal government’s withdrawal of funding for social housing that has created this situation.”

“By funding the shelters, the province could prove that they were not set up solely to hide the homeless for the Olympics,” said Wendy Pederson of the Carnegie Community Action Project. “It’s hideous to fight for shelters but unfortunately, these shelters are needed until incomes are raised and real social housing is built.”

“The provincial government knows that people will be forced to live on the street and in parks if these shelters close,” said John Richardson, of Pivot Legal Society. “If the decision is to have homeless people living outside, we are asking the public to defend their right to shelter by sponsoring a red tent or a red tarp.”

Under a December 2009 BC Court of Appeal decision, homeless individuals have a constitutional right to erect a tent on public land if shelters are full. It is the first appeal court decision to find that the “right to life” under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the right to shelter. More than 70 homeless people were given permanent housing as a condition of closing the last tent city, during the Olympic Games.

The number of homeless in Vancouver has increased 12% from 2008, from 1576 to 1762. Until now, most homeless people have been able to find beds; the closure of the HEAT shelters will mean more than 1000 people will sleep on the streets of Vancouver.