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Red tents for the homeless in Vancouver - while the world is watching

With 500 people in metro Vancouver, B.C., hunkering down without a roof overhead nightly, an advocacy group wants to distribute red tents to the city's homeless to make shelter on the sidewalks -- at the height of the Olympic games festivities.


The Tyee reports:

Picture homeless people camped on downtown sidewalks. Big yawns inside bright red tents as the sun rises on another Olympics day. Early next month, Pivot Legal Society hopes to ask city council's permission to start handing out 500 collapsible shelters to Vancouver's most needy. Pivot's rights activists want to confront a city enthralled by Olympic jubilation with the reality of local poverty. And test the limits of constitutional law.

British Columbia Supreme Court rulings have upheld the right of the homeless to camp in public spaces when there is no other shelter. So Pivot is offering donors the right to "sponsor" a tent for $100 and shelter a homeless person. With world attention about to be focused on Vancouver during the Olympic games, the timing of the Red Tent campaign is no accident.

"We want the media to experience the most liveable city in the world and also see the contradiction -- that this is a city that has a chronic problem with poverty and homelessness," Pivot Executive Director John Richardson said. "We want them to ask, 'What is the Canadian government doing about this?'"

-- Rita Hibbard

Rita Hibbard's picture

Heat your home with what comes out of the toilet - brown sludge goes green

Imagine a future where you can heat your home with what comes out of your toilet.

Well, in Vancouver, B.C., they started doing it. Yesterday.

rita_hibbardwebIt's North America's first renewable heating system, which will turn sewage into heat for 16,00o homes. The system cost $30 million, and is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the area it serves by 50 percent. The Tyee reports that it will also keep 2,800 athletes warm in the Olympic Village.

Says Mayor Gregor Robertson:

“It reflects the steps we are taking to make Vancouver the greenest city on the earth.”


Prostitutes peeved at Salvation Army over "Truth Isn't Sexy" posters

Judging by the way Kelly Sinoski's story in the Vancouver Sun is written today, it must now be PC to call prostitutes "sex workers." But we're going to continue to call them prostitutes, which is the plain English most people understand, as we muse about Sinoski's story saying that these women who perform sex for money are really, really ticked off at the Salvation Army.

It seems that the Army has put up a number of posters in Vancouver, particularly in bar bathrooms on Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside, with the theme "The Truth Isn't Sexy." They show women who are supposedly prostitutes being brutalized in various ways. The Salvation Army says Vancouver is a major port of entry for prostitutes brought in from overseas, and that many of the prostitutes in the Downtown Eastside are effectively in bondage to gangs or pimps.

And the Army says the number of prostitutes in Vancouver is sure to swell as the 2010 Winter Olympics draws near.

Comes now a group known as the Sex Industry Worker Safety Action Group to protest the Army's campaign. Said SIWSAG spokeswoman Tamara O’Doherty:

[Sex workers] are raising some concerns over the fact the campaign perpetuates the myth of sex workers being slaves.

The she goes on to say something that sounds at least a little contradictory:

They’re traumatized. ... For some of these people who work on the streets, they do experience violence. 

Hmmm... now we see that Stuart Hunter's story in The Province also uses the "sex worker" nomenclature.

Vancouver seeks to jail homeless who refuse shelter; critics point to Olympics cleanup

The British Columbia provincial government is backpedaling in the face of outrage over legislation it drafted allowing the jailing of homeless people who refuse shelter in severe weather.

A partial draft of the legislation leaked, prompting officials to take pains to explain that what got out was an early draft discussion paper and not a proposal, reports Jonathan Fowlie of The Vancouver Sun. It was prompted by the death of a homeless woman on the streets in a fire she was using to keep warm last winter, said Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman:

It’s about trying to get them [homeless people] to a place where we can show them what’s available so they can make a decision hopefully to not freeze. There’s no movement to say we’re going to take them to jail. There’s no movement to say we’re going to put them in a secure facility.

Critics charge that the move is intended to help clear the streets of undesirable people in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The city's Downtown Eastside neighborhood houses hundreds of homeless people and has become an embarrassment to city and provincial officials.

For a taste of the criticism, dip into Harsha Walia's post on the Sun's Community of Interest page, which details how similar street-cleanings took place in Atlanta (which has *much* more dangerous neighborhoods than Vancouver) and other cities where past Olympics were held. Walia cites a report by the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions etitled "Fair Play for Housing Rights." An AP story by Erica Bulman summarizes the report.

Update 3:50 p.m. : Whoops. I totally forgot to include this interesting Globe and Mail story that InvestigateWest intern Emily Linroth pointed out to me.

Rats and poor tenants check out to make room for 2010 Olympic guests?

Tenants of a rat-infested hotel in Downtown Eastside Vancouver are being encouraged by the city to stay, despite an eviction notice from their landlord, reports Doug Ward in the Vancouver Sun. The landlord told tenants they would have to leave by the end of September so pest control could take care of the rats, cockroaches and bedbugs in the hotel. The city says it's illegal and unnecessary for the hotel's low-income residents to leave, because the pests could be taken care of while tenants are there. The city fears the landlord plans to kick all the tenants out so he could renovate the hotel and rent its rooms to clients with higher incomes, potentially visitors to the 2010 Olympic Games. The current tenants could end up homeless if the eviction was successful.

– Emily Linroth

B.C. feels green over new budget

Environmentalists in British Columbia are reeling over cuts to the province's Environment Ministry, reports Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail. Although the government routinely discusses protecting the environment, it slashed spending by 15 percent from last year's budget, and that number is expected to decrease in the coming years. The province also repealed the Innovative Clean Energy levy, a program that uses sales tax on energy purchases and raises $25 million for clean energy annually.

B.C. was declared the greenest province in Canada on Earth Day this August, thanks to its carbon tax and programs like LiveSmart that encourage residents to make their homes more sustainable. But environmentalists worry this title could change if the government continues to provide tax incentives to industry while putting environmental programs on the back burner.

Much of the debate centers around the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which exempts fuel sources like gas and oil but not renewable energy, such as solar panels, reportsAndrew MacLeod in The Tyee.

Meanwhile, Vancouver is taking matters into its own hands by hiring Sadhu Aufochs Johnston, a 35-year-old "guru of green" from Chicago, in its efforts to make Vancouver the world's greenest city, reports Doug Ward of the Vancouver Sun.

It seems the incentives for environmental programs are there, but the money isn't. It will be interesting to see what Johnston does with Vancouver and how much funding he'll have to do it with.

– Emily Linroth

Fish farms can harm more than salmon

Vancouverites are protesting a new fish farm amid concerns about local salmon declines, reports Wendy Stueck of the Globe and Mail. The proposed site for the Gunner Point fish farm is in Johnstone Strait, an area opponents say young salmon would be forced to pass on their way to the ocean. Being funneled past the farm could expose juvenile salmon to sea lice and disease.

Grieg Seafood, the company proposing the facility, has offered to time production schedules to minimize sea lice spreading, as well as to complete more monitoring for sea lice than is legally required. It is still waiting for provincial approval to open.

Another fish farm on the northwest tip of Vancouver Island is causing problems even though its production ceased years ago, reports Scott Simpson of the Vancouver Sun. Although the Centre Cove salmon farm was shut down in 2004, new government reports indicate metals released from the farm will have toxic effects on life on the ocean floor for more than a 100-yard radius from the site until 2019.

The main culprits at the site are zinc and copper. Copper was used as an "anti-fouling" agent to keep algae and barnacles from growing on nets (many boats use copper-based paint to prevent growth as well). Zinc was in the food fed to the salmon raised at the farm. The spread of contamination is worse because the site is located in an area where slow ocean currents couldn't effectively disperse the metals, allowing them to persist and build up in organisms like clams and oysters.

Shocked Vancouverites want inquest on homeless death

An inquest has been requested to investigate the death of 46-year-old Curtis Brick, a Vancouver homeless man who died on the hottest day of summer in Grandview Park this July, report Richard Dalton Jr. and Rebecca Tebrake in the Vancouver Sun. Many people were playing in the park that day, but no one called emergency services until Brick showed symptoms of sunstroke and began convulsing on the grass. Discrepancies in reportsof how long it took police to arrive and how they treated Brick once they were there prompted his family to ask for an investigation, according to another article by Wendy Stueck in the Globe and Mail. The case resembles that of Frank Paul, a homeless man who died after being left in an alley by police on a cold, rainy December night in 1998.

Brick's case has caused significant alarm in Vancouver over how people treat the homeless. Some worry people are so used to seeing homeless people sleeping outside, they don't really notice them anymore. Many people are intimidated by walking up to homeless person, according to Suzanne Noel, who is active on homeless committees and opened the first homeless service for aboriginal youth in Metro Vancouver. But if someone is in trouble, respectfully asking if they are OK and calling paramedics if necessary is the right thing to do.

Many Vancouverites turned out for Brick's memorial, shown here.