“Every day that the Liberals delay allowing a new government to be formed,” said NDP’s Spencer Chandra Herbert earlier this month, “is a day that more people lose their homes.” With today’s vote of non-confidence, a feeling of optimism is now in the air. But will an NDP-Green government actually address homelessness? Will it fund non-market housing or even minimally alter the rules of the housing market?
In their annual Housing and Homelessness Report Card, the City of Vancouver reports that 1,683 units of new social housing are in development or have been built since 2012. Yet based on research by the authors, under 6% of the new social housing is guaranteed for people on welfare. The vast majority of Vancouver’s “social housing”, therefore, will be unavailable for the 1,847 people reported as homeless in Vancouver this year, the highest number since counts began.
Earlier this fall Vancouver’s Gallery Gachet was notified that 100 percent of their funding from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) will be cut by December. The cuts reflect a trend in health services towards an increasingly limited definition of health care. They also come in the context of the continuous loss of affordable housing, increased policing, and accelerating gentrification in the wake of the City’s two year old Local Area Plan for the Downtown Eastside.
On November 13th, the City of Vancouver announced that it would launch a crackdown on illegal street vendors in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). The City’s director of Social Policy, Mary Clare Zak, informed DTES community groups that “starting next week you will begin to see a larger City presence in the DTES, including VPD officers, as we continue our efforts in the area to ensure it is a safe place for everyone.” According to Zak the objective is to “support and facilitate the movement of street vendors from the [0-300] block of E. Hastings Street and surrounding area.”
Last week, on November 22nd, a Vancouver Police Department (VPD) officer shot and killed a 51 year old man at the intersection of East 41st Avenue and Knight Street. The man was Phuong Na (Tony) Du. Within one minute of arriving at the scene, one of the officers drew his gun and shot Du to death. Before the shooting, Du was visibly distraught. According to eyewitnesses, Du was talking to himself while waving a piece of two-by-four wood on an empty sidewalk.
In recent years we have seen a massive bolstering of the capacity of the Canadian state to contain poor and oppressed communities. These shifts have worked to target, criminalize and incarcerate those who most actively resist neoliberal and colonial policies. This neoliberal “containment state” is grounded in new ways of criminalizing people and communities, an increase in police and police power, and an expanding prison industrial complex.
Like many of today’s major cities, Vancouver is a city of slum-landlords – owners of substandard housing where building maintenance codes are ignored, tenants are dispensable, and legislation around rental housing, like the BC Residential Tenancy Act, is rarely followed. This year, far more than any previous election, Vision Vancouver is being financed by those slumlords.