News / Vancouver

Mayor commits to social housing at tent city site in Downtown Eastside meeting

Unprecedented encounter addressed some concerns of a weeks-old protest camp at 58 West Hastings, but the camp will continue.

Karen Ward, left, speaks about the meeting between tent city organizers, local groups, and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson at the Carnegie Community Centre on Tuesday.

David P. Ball / Metro Order this photo

Karen Ward, left, speaks about the meeting between tent city organizers, local groups, and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson at the Carnegie Community Centre on Tuesday.

It was an unusual setting for an announcement by the mayor of one of Canada's largest cities.

But if Vancouver Mayor Robertson was at all nervous — engulfed by a crowd of Downtown Eastside residents, some shouting at him about housing shortages, at the corner of Main and Hastings streets — he didn't show it.

"We’ve lost so much of the housing here in Vancouver that was at shelter rates partly because of the affordability issue, partly because welfare rates have been frozen for so many years," he said as a group of local activists and residents held aloft a handwritten sign listing their housing demands.

The messy handwriting on flipchart paper brandished by the housing advocates listed a set of agreements reached with the mayor and city staff during an unprecedented 1.5-hour meeting. It was a scene much in contrast to the Mayor's usual slickly choreographed events.

He met with residents from several groups, including the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and organizers behind a weeks-old protest encampment calling for an increase in social housing amidst higher-than-ever homelessness.

That tent city, the latest incarnation of a previously used Vancouver protest tactic, occupies 58 West Hastings St., site of another encampment during the 2010 Olympics.

“We have homeless camps right across the province now,” Robertson said. “We need to be sure the B.C. government is focused on solving homelessness, building the social housing we need here on the streets of Vancouver.”

According to the agreement signed by Robertson the tent city site will become “100 per cent social housing,” with priority to people on welfare and pensions, and vowed to continue advocating for the province to raise welfare shelter allowances lifted above $375 a month for a single person.

“We demanded change and this is the commitment we achieved today,” said Karen Ward, a spokesperson for the tent city. “We talked for about an hour about the crisis of homelessness, the decaying (Single Resident Occupancy) stock, and the ridiculously low welfare shelter rates in our community.”

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