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    Countdown to 2010

    By Nita Palmer
    In her BC Provincial budget speech on February 21st Finance Minister Carole Taylor declared that “Budget 2007 is a major step towards ensuring that every British Columbian has access to a safe, appropriate and affordable place to call home.” According to Taylor, the new budget champions the growing homelessness crisis in BC by putting $27Million into emergency shelter beds; adding $6Million to transition houses for women and children fleeing violence at home; and raising the shelter allowance rate for those on income assistance from $325/month to $375/month.

    What Taylor didn’t mention was that this money will go nowhere in solving the fact that homelessness in BC has doubled since the BC Liberal government came to power in 2001. She didn’t mention that between June 2005 and June 2006, only 82 units of social housing were built, while nearly 400 were lost in Vancouver alone (Pivot Legal Society, Sept. 2006, http://www.pivotlegal.org). Also not mentioned is the fact that the 2007 BC Budget does not include a single penny for permanent social housing, instead funding only emergency shelters. As the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver approach, the BC government is getting more and more desperate to cover-up the crisis of human suffering that their system has created.

    Homes Not Games! Vancouver Activists Protest

    With the increase in the crisis of homelessness, and an increase in the hype promoting Vancouver as a major tourist destination for the 2010 Olympics, protest against the homelessness crisis have come as well. On February 12th about 100 Vancouver activists and DTES residents protested the unveiling of Vancouver’s new “countdown to 2010” Olympic clock, demanding “Homes Not Games!” and calling attention to the growing homelessness crisis which is especially prominent in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). Protesters shouted at speakers and rushed onto stage, grabbing the microphone from a Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) official, shouting into the microphone and chanting “Homes not Games!”

    While the method of the protesters might not be seen by many working people as the most effective in building a movement against the crisis of homelessness and poverty in BC, the demands the protesters raise are vitally important, absolutely legitimate and must be fully supported. The coming Olympics have brought with them a campaign of “gentrification” of Vancouver’s poorer neighbourhoods, particularly the DTES. This “gentrification” involves many single-resident occupancies (SROs) being redeveloped, having the rent increased, or simply being closed and torn down to make way for new buildings. At the same time, the DTES is marketed as the new “hip and affordable” place to live. As more people with more money move in to the newly “gentrified” neighbourhood of the DTES, low-income residents and families are pushed out of their homes.

    Capitalism’s Crisis of Human Suffering

    “Since we got to Vancouver, all six of us have been staying in a bachelor apartment. Social Services came and said that the place was unfit for the children, and ordered us to leave. They told us to find a shelter by ourselves, and to phone the welfare system if we cannot find one.”
    – affidavit from Pivot Legal Society’s “Cracks in the Foundation” report on homelessness.

    The 2005 Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) Homelessness Count found 2,174 people living on the streets or in shelters in the Vancouver area. However, outreach workers estimate the actual number to be four to five times higher, and showing no signs of slowing down. Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver estimates that the number of homeless people living on the street will be 3,177 by 2010, although the actual number will undoubtedly be much higher. For poor and working people, for Vancouver’s homeless population, and for the 125,000 people in Vancouver who are at risk of homelessness, this is a daily crisis of human misery and stolen dignity. For the ruling class of Canada, the government of BC, and conservative NPA run Vancouver City Council, this is the crisis of the true face of capitalism hiding itself no longer. As 2010 looms closer, they are desperately scrambling to hide the festering open wound that threatens to rip off the mask of the “advanced society” and expose Canada’s capitalist system for what it is. This is why now they are suddenly throwing in a few dollars to create short-term beds in shelters. But the international economy is entering a free-fall, and the wound of homelessness and poverty is no longer one that can be covered with a band-aid solution. Even if the municipal and provincial governments live up to their promises of creating more beds in shelters, this will not solve the human crisis that they have created.

    Social Housing - A Step in the Fight for a Better World

    It has been a century now since the appearance of imperialism, the next stage of the decaying development of Capitalism, that lords of capital can no longer effectively hide their own crisis, never mind to solve it. The only force which can confront this crisis is a mobilization of poor, working, and oppressed people against this system which places the wealth and property in the hands of a few. It is not only possible for us to build this movement, it is necessary and must be done. We must make the fight against homelessness an issue for poor and working people to unite around. We must not accept the few dollars that are thrown into creating emergency shelter beds or a few units of social housing tacked on to sparkling new condominiums as a solution. No lover of humanity or decent human being can accept this removal of human dignity. A first step in the struggle against homelessness and poverty is the fight for social housing – but ultimately, we must fight against the system of capitalism that destroys basic human rights. Then we must fight for a world based on human rights, with the masses of people capable of ending to this human misery, because this crisis cannot be confronted any other way.

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