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NDP supportive housing announcement for Maple Ridge continues the BC Liberal legacy of failing homeless people
Anita Place Tent City residents respond to BC’s Housing Minister Selena Robinson’s announcement of only 40 units of institutional “supportive” housing to be run by the Salvation Army
The BC NDP government’s January 10th announcement for housing in Maple Ridge kicked off the new year on the wrong foot, according to residents of the 9-month old Anita Place Tent City. Homeless residents have been in negotiations with BC Housing representatives since September. The 100 people who use and live in the tent city feel left out in the cold by the BC NDP. This week’s announcement for new housing in Maple Ridge reflects the budgets of the previous government and the priorities of anti-homeless, anti-harm reduction Ridgilantes, not the housing and health needs of homeless people themselves.
The NDP government announcement is for 40 units of supportive housing to be included in a new building for the Salvation Army shelter, which has already been scheduled to move in order to accommodate an expanded highway bypassing Maple Ridge. They spent $3.7million on a plot of land for this building, and will spend approximately another $10million for the construction, falling within the $15million for a new “supportive housing” building promised by the BC Liberals when they closed the Rain City shelter in February 2017. Samantha, a low-income community member and supporter of Anita Place said, “This isn’t a new housing announcement, this is an announcement about Sally Ann’s new building. They planned this before Anita Place even existed; this is not the government responding to the needs of this community.”
The announcement also includes $15million for “affordable housing” for “seniors and families.” This project was also announced by the BC Liberals when they announced the closure of the Rain City shelter in February 2017. Under the BC Liberals, “affordable” housing has come to mean non-subsidized non-market housing that rents far above welfare or pension rates. Al, a resident of Anita Place tent city responded to the language around this announcement: “I know that means it’s not for homeless seniors and it doesn’t include me.”
40 units are not even a quarter of the housing we need
Tracy Scott explained that she felt 40 units are an insult to what she has been fighting for. “40 units doesn’t do anything for us in this camp – it doesn’t even house a quarter of us. No way, this is not the way to end homelessness. There are a hundred people in Anita Place and you offer 40 units? No way.” She said, “We made our needs clear when we met with BC Housing: to end this camp we need 200 units of modular housing opened immediately and 200 units of permanent social housing – not supportive housing.”
Asked by a reporter if she thought this announcement represented a start toward the housing needed, Scott explained that the bitter experience of how the BC Liberals shut down Maple Ridge’s last tent city has taught her not to treat any announcement as a “good first step.” She said, “The last government promised to buy land and build housing and they didn’t. They left us out here. They housed some of us in houses they rented and then kicked them out in the dead of winter. They claim they housed people but those same people are back on the streets.”
Supportive housing is a failed model
In every meeting with BC Housing and in every statement since Anita Place began, homeless campers have explained and repeated their opposition to the “supportive housing” model developed under the BC Liberal government. Supportive housing is an institutional model of government housing where tenants give up their tenancy rights, privacy, and autonomy in exchange for a roof over their heads. Anita Place tent city calls for social housing where rents are fixed and affordable by even the most low-income people, and residents direct the policies and operations of their building, like they have at their camp.
David Cudmore, a resident of Anita Place, explained, “The problem with supportive housing is that you’re locked in, staff controls your guests, cameras watch you 24/7 and send surveillance to the police. We’re old enough, mature enough to care for ourselves. It’s the rent we’re looking for, not babysitters in supportive housing. It’s not going to work for us.” Cudmore said, “The message from supportive housing is that there’s something wrong with us—that’s why we need social housing. There’s nothing wrong with us; there’s something wrong with the society that makes us poor and homeless.”
Salvation Army management means more overdose deaths
Opposing supportive housing does not mean opposing support for people in crisis. Over nine months, there have been no deaths at Anita Place tent city and far fewer overdoses than are typical in shelters and other more institutional spaces. Anita Place is testament to the expertise of homeless people and low-income drug users in directing and carrying out their own health care and harm reduction. The NDP announcement of the Salvation Army as housing operator grovels to pressure from anti-harm reduction, poor bashing Ridgeilante bigots, rather than the health needs of low-income drug users.
Brett, a resident of Anita Place and IV drug user explained, “It’s a major failure for the people to have Salvation Army as the operator for our housing. After the Rain City shelter closed last year, the government gave the harm reduction contract to Salvation Army and they capped the number of needles you can take – it put me at risk. I was re-using needles and when I was with my friends we couldn’t keep track of who used which needles. Their staff is not trained to deal with harm reduction supplies or Narcan; they don’t know how to use them. Salvation Army doesn’t understand harm reduction and they should not be running services in this community.”
Tent cities will continue to grow
Ivan Drury, an organizer with Alliance Against Displacement, which has supported Anita Place since it started, explained that the spirit of this 40-unit housing announcement means tent cities will continue to grow. “This announcement is not a step towards something different from the BC Liberal legacy,” Drury explained. “This announcement means that the NDP government is continuing the BC Liberal’s housing policy of public relation spins that re-announce previous announcements to make it seem like they are doing something without spending the money needed to actually end homelessness.”
Tent city residents said they remain determined to fight for housing for everyone who is homeless. Brett explained, “We’re fighting for housing for everybody who needs it. I won’t watch my friends fall through the cracks while I get housing; everyone’s life has equal value. If I get picked for one of these 40 units while my brother has to stay on the streets, I won’t go.” And Dwayne Martin, a resident of Anita Place and of the Rain City shelter before it, said, “The government wants to separate us, to house just some of us, to break our community, but we won’t go. We’ll stay at Anita Place and we’ll keep fighting.”
Investing in police is divesting from our communities. No to VicPD budget increases for health and social services.
|Victoria Mayor & Council,
Alliance Against Displacement is an organization working alongside low-income, working class, and Indigenous communities in Victoria, Maple Ridge, Surrey, Burnaby and Vancouver. We are writing to strongly oppose the proposed VicPD budget increase of almost $2.5 million, much of which will be dedicated to criminalizing low-income, Indigenous, and racialized people. Of particular concern to our communities:
Poverty and homelessness have increased drastically as a result of extreme austerity measures put in place by the federal and provincial governments over the last 30 years. Never before have there been so many people living on our streets without access to the housing, income, health care, and supports needed to survive. Police have come under public attack for enacting further harm against the same populations already devastated by austerity measures — including people with mental health concerns, people who use substances (especially with regard tooverdose calls), and racialized communities. At the same time, crime rates across BC are decreasing, undermining the justification for ever-growing police budgets. Facing a loss of relevance and critiques of their role as violent agents of the neoliberal state, police are attempting to rebrand themselves as experts in the fields of health care and social services.
This request to increase the VicPD budget is part of a broader police strategy to move beyond the realm of traditional law enforcement, and into healthcare and welfare systems, where they will subject vulnerable populations to increased surveillance and criminalization.
Criminalization is a method of social regulation by which poor, Indigenous, homeless, drug-using, sex working, racialized, or undocumented people are disproportionately targeted by police and overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Populations that do not conform or are not able to participate within the confines of consumer capitalism are treated as threats: their poverty is moralized and survival methods punished.
People who are forced to carry out survival activities in the public eye, such as sleeping outside and using drugs and alcohol visibly, become targets for police intervention and violence, bylaws that criminalize visible poverty, and displacement efforts that hide but do not solve homelessness (e.g., temporary shelters).
The protection and safety that middle and upper-class property owners — classes of people that are disproportionately white — feel when they see the police is the exact opposite of the feelings that the police evoke in our communities. We know we are more likely to experience violence and even death at the hands of the police than protection or safety. Yet, police increasingly carve out a role for themselves in the ‘health care’ of people who are most harmed by the criminalization of poverty.
Over the last three years, multiple organizations and individuals most affected by police violence have spoken out in opposition to VicPD budget increases for health and social services, or refused to collaborate with the police to provide support for their project. A strong message has been sent and it’s time to hear us. Increasing police budgets is a failed response to poverty, homelessness, mental health, and the drug poisoning crisis, and will only result in more harm and more death.
“Legitimate” and “Illegitimate” Violence: the double-standard of colonial and capitalist exploitation
AAD STATEMENT DECEMBER 28, 2017
A common complaint directed at homeless people, especially when they form visible communities, is that they produce criminal activity. Criminalization is a method of social regulation that disproportionately targets people who are poor, Indigenous, homeless, drug-using, sex working, racialized, or undocumented. It functions to cover up social inequalities rather than address their root causes. Within a criminalization framework, populations that do not conform or are not able to participate within the confines of consumer capitalism are treated as threats: their poverty is moralized and survival methods punished in order to occlude forms of violence that pervade Canadian society but remain largely illegible to the public. The outcomes of displacing and criminalizing vulnerable populations is increased policing and surveillance to enforce involuntary detainment in psychiatric institutions, imprisonment, marginalization, and death, yet none of these violences elicit popular disgust. Rather, they are alternately perceived as unremarkable, or mobilized to further displace and attack marginalized populations. Alliance Against Displacement (AAD) believes that capitalism and colonialism depend on a fundamental denial of the relationship between violence and power.
If we understand violence as connected to systems of political and economic dominance, then it becomes clear that all of us live and breathe violence: as settlers benefitting from stolen land, as Indigenous people battling colonization, as working class people who are forced to sell their labor to survive, and as poor and homeless people who are blamed for the crises of poverty and homelessness. Canada, a fictitious nation that wields State power on Turtle Island, subsists on violence, both in terms of its historical foundations and its ongoing systems of domination and control: colonialism, white supremacy, capitalism, criminalization, and imperialism produced and reproduce Canada. AAD rejects a politics of bourgeois respectability, couched in social and cultural norms that hypocritically treat crimes of survival with moral disdain while condoning the violences of the State. AAD rejects the conflation of violence with crime, which is used to justify punitive responses that make the world more, not less, violent. Crime in marginalized communities functions as both a means of survival as well as a symptom of the systemic violences that produce marginalization in the first place; by understanding how violence is foundational to capitalism and colonialism, and sanctioned by the State to maintain these systems of power, we can work towards articulating a more just and equitable society.
Anti-crime discourse: auxiliary for State-sanctioned violence
Anti-crime discourse masks the dehumanizing conditions of legislated poverty. Rather than pointing to the austerity policies of the State, which distribute wealth upwards and force increasing numbers of people into homelessness and premature death, these discourses individualize poverty, confining their analyses to the realm of personal choice. The limitations of individualizing the relationship between crime and poverty is best demonstrated by the self-interested myopia of NIMBYism. NIMBYists are not interested in targeting the systems that create poverty and desperation; rather they prefer that the violences inherent in our society remain out of their sight. Although NIMBYism and related stances are primarily phrased in terms of concerns about public safety, their disgust for marginalized communities is better understood as emerging directly from state-sanctioned violence. NIMBY-like expressions necessarily unfold from the legitimized violence of the police, which normalizes the displacement, imprisonment, and deaths of marginalized populations. Although we are disturbed by individual bigots who engage in poor-bashing, we do not see them as exceptional—they are merely embodiments of a broader State violence that criminalizes people and ejects them from public spaces for not obeying the sensibilities of capitalist production.
Public safety discourse: sanitizing space through exclusion
Public safety discourse decides which bodies are entitled to feeling safe in public. Bodies that are superfluous or threatening to capitalism and colonialism, and therefore already targeted by structural violences, are condemned to go “elsewhere”, which amounts to public or literal death. Within the hierarchy of power expressed through public safety concerns, “theft” is only recognizable when it targets the property of middle and upper class people. The thefts that lie at the heart of our political economy—the stolen Indigenous land, resources, children, women, language, and culture that produce colonialism, and the stolen labour and resources, especially from the global south and the bodies of people of colour that produce capitalism—remain unrecognized, as does the confiscation of poor people’s property by police and bylaw officers. Despite its ostensibly neutral veneer, “public safety” serves to reinforce the colonial-capitalist supremacy of personal property and ownership, and promotes criminalization as a way to control public space and ensure that it remains inhospitable and dehumanizing for people who are already excluded from mainstream society.
Broadening how we understand violence
If we are to combat violence, we must broaden our understanding of it to include its most devastating iteration: as naturalized and structural, travelling from the upper strata of State power to the most vulnerable members of our society. When business owners in Maple Ridge rationalize their desire to displace the Anita Place tent city by claiming that it harms their profits, they embody the structural violences that uphold colonialism and capitalism. Within their logic, the right to make a profit through owning private property is more important than the material and political empowerment of poor and homeless people. When residents in Marpole reason that a modular housing development doesn’t belong next to a school, they rely on a construction of public safety that paints marginalized others as dangerous. Obsessions with public space as the site where middle class people should be most concerned about facing danger masks two realities: firstly, that people are far more likely to experience domestic violence rather than attacks by strangers, and secondly, that the carceral apparatus of the state (police, prisons) is far more destructive and harmful than the acts of survival it targets. Confronting both these realities requires us to ignore the red herrings that insist on individualizing violence, and instead examine how the dispossessing foundations of our society suffuse both public and private spaces. Violence permeates all classes and social groups, yet it is disproportionately weaponized as an accusation against those who are most outside the logics of colonialism and capitalism. Structural violence intervenes in public spaces not through the presence of criminalized bodies, but through their enforced absence.
AAD insists on understanding violence and crime through a revolutionary anti-colonial and anti-capitalist lens. This is not to deny that individuals enact violence and crime—rather, we understand that all individuals exist within violent systems of power and respond to the conditions of material and ethical scarcity those systems create. For communities that are already marginalized, accusations of violence and ongoing criminalization serve to beat back their claims to space, political power, and visibility. We must see these accusations as part and parcel of State controlled systems that normalize the control and demonization of the poor. Tent cities and other community spaces for poor, racialized, and criminalized people serve as sites of resistance, against the State’s material violences as well as the dominant norms and values those violences engender. We will not be forced back into the margins because our very presence interrupts the sham of colonist bourgeois respectability that Canada hides its acts of violence behind.
Burnaby Council pushes ahead with another Metrotown demoviction rezoning, using unsubsidized and unaffordable “non-market” housing as a smokescreen
AAD Statement on the involuntary decampment of DTES homeless encampment
This morning at 7:00am, Tuesday December 19, 2017, Sugar Mountain Tent City was finally crushed. Originating in Ten Year Ten City, the seven and a half month protest represented the political struggle of homeless communities to form their own centers of survival. Today, the Canadian State and its supporters have triumphed in increasing?homelessness.
As the first snow of the year touches the ground, the last remaining residents at Sugar Mountain are forced to take down their tents and find a new place to ‘call home’. Wade, one of the original Sugar Mountain residents, says they are moving under a bridge to keep out of the snow. Other residents have been put in jail, some do not know what they are going to do, and many have chosen to enter the shelter system they resent because it is the only alternative given by the City of Vancouver, the NDP, and the Liberals other than freezing to death.
10 Year Tent City and Sugar Mountain did not fail. These tent cities were organized as a fight back against the normalization and disappearance of homelessness in public consciousness; these tent cities are responsible for keeping homelessness and poverty up front as a public issue – evidence of this was the ease with which we drew media attention consistently through the duration of the camp’s existence. Carlos, a resident of Sugar Mountain said on Friday, “this camp is important because it is in the heart of the City where capitalists are creating homelessness. We have to make that obvious.”
The political work of supporting self-organized tent cities has had a bearing (which no one can exactly measure) on setting the NDP government’s approach towards homelessness. We introduced the “modular housing” demand and Sugar Mountain contributed towards winning billions of dollars to be released in this direction.
Yet, the breakup of Sugar Mountain represents the continuation of the government policy of hiding homelessness rather than confronting and ending poverty. Since the fall rains and cold weather began the City of Vancouver and Province of BC have opened hundreds of temporary and transitional shelter beds in order to cover up the homelessness crisis they have no intention of ending. We know that homeless people hate this policy; that it is humiliating; that it is disgusting and inhuman; that it doesn’t work; and that homeless people are committed to fighting to end it.
The City and Province have tried to neutralize and spin around criticisms of the shelter system by reforming the management style of shelters. For instance, many winter shelters now allow pets and couples and storage of belongings. These modifications are representative of our resistance to the conditions imposed upon us and the unwillingness of the Canadian government to present actual solutions to a major crisis of capitalism and colonialism: the ever-expanding homelessness population.
The tent city tactic for fighting austerity policies demonstrates the contradiction homeless activists are forced to face: the ‘choice’ between health and survival, and political goals. The State and capital have made the emancipation of Indigenous and low-income people directly oppositional to our immediate safety in attempt to shut down the struggle for freedom before it can even start. Alliance Against Displacement unreservedly supports the decisions of homeless people who are facing unrelenting attacks by the State and the weather to accept shelter beds over pneumonia. The breakup of Sugar Mountain Tent City does not represent an end of residents’ determination to abolish the shelter system – it represents the coercive power of that system.
This fight has exposed the reality that the Canadian government is more interested in utilizing its resources to destroy collective power than promote the democratic self-expression of the most vulnerable communities within its colonial borders, that it will let people die if it means maintaining the facade that homelessness doesn’t exist. AAD is committed to continuing the fight against state strategies of displacement and containment, against sophisticated Vision-NDP poverty cover up efforts, and alongside Indigenous and non-native working class homeless communities for the power we need to end poverty, and with it, capitalism and colonialism.