A former UN envoy on housing with the Human Rights Council toured Vancouver’s latest ‘Tent City’ and says we have a potential ‘Apartheid’ on our hands.
“That word used to just describe South Africa,” says former Rapporteur & current president of advocacy group UPR Info, Miloon Kothari. In Vancouver, he sees people being segregated through policy to isolate wealthy and poor neighbourhoods and Vancouver’s multi-million dollar housing speculation isn’t sustainable.
He says it has even caused banks to become downgraded over their debts.
“I studied the situation in Spain and this type of unbridled speculation in the property market actually led to a national economic collapse in Spain,” he explains, noting that this may not happen here, but he expects to see some kind of burst in the housing bubble.
He is meeting with Vancouver city council tomorrow to find out from them why the housing situation is the way it is and offer his advice from experience. By the city’s own count, homelessness has grown 35% since 2005.
Kothari admits that wealthy cities from New York, to Sidney, to Madrid have their problems, but Vancouver is distinct because we don’t have different types of solutions to homelessness.
“Many of the European cities that I’ve been to, you have 60-70% of rental housing, you have social housing spread across the city,” he says. “In fact, you can’t make a distinction between what is an apartment, social housing, or condominium.”
Kothari spoke to media outside the infamous ‘Tent City’ on Main Street before walking through the encampment of tarps and tents to speak with people who live there.
“There’s a real lack of alternatives here, that’s why you see tent cities coming up,” he says. “There are no options for people, even if you go to a shelter, it’s very, very difficult.”
Meanwhile, people living there say they want to stay, despite the City of Vancouver’s application to clear out the camp near Pacific Central Station to make room for social housing on the vacant lot.
“We love it here, we’re like one big family basically, we look out for each other,” says one of the women living there. Several other people nod in agreement.
“I like it here, it’s a safe environment, it’s healthy and clean, I’d rather stay in a tent than a shelter,” says one woman living there who has been homeless for two years.
“You basically have to fend for yourself for a bit in the shelter, it’s hard to trust anybody,” says another man, who finds it easier to sleep in ‘Tent City’ than a shelter or on the street. “There’s less noise, there’s still noise, but it’s just sirens.”
“If you’ve never been on the street before, it can be a pretty bad experience for somebody that just got laid off and has no experience, it is really scary for some people, especially women,” says a man taking shade.
One resident befriended a crow that he found was being beaten up by other crows. He says a lot of places won’t accept him because of the bird, but he feels he’s gained a connection to it.
“Her eyes are not black, her talons are a bit longer, and her beak is different,” he says. “This crow has been showing me that there’s more to it than being an animal flying around and eating garbage.”
Vancouver’s shelters are already expecting an influx of people as the decrepit Balmoral Hotel is going to be evacuated next week.