On Economists Saying It’s All Good and Clearing the Homeless From Oppenheimer Park

Tea & Two Slices is a long-running local news round-up by NEEDS frontman and veteran dishwasher Sean Orr, who lives and works in Gastown, deeply aware of his privilege.

Economists get the wall: In Canada, the gap between the rich and poor remains stable.

But while fewer people are getting ahead, they are also not falling behind much. Despite all the hand-wringing about worsening inequality and the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer, Canada’s income picture is one of stability, with incremental progress for some.

Hand-wringing? Are you serious? We should be happy with “incremental progress for some”? Did you forget that more than one in seven Canadian children lives in poverty? How about the record number of homeless in Vancouver? And half of B.C. workers living paycheque to paycheque? Thousands of people dying from a poisoned drug supply doesn’t sound like “stable” to me. Neither do reserves without clean drinking water. How stabilizing are the billionaires stashing money in offshore tax havens? Wake up, Economists! The wealthiest 87 families have as much wealth as 12 million Canadians combined, and the wealthiest 20 per cent of B.C. households own 62 per cent of the net worth of principal residences in B.C. You call this hand-wringing?

It’s like we’re all depressed and you’re saying, “Chin up honey, it ain’t that bad!” Seriously, get your head out of a textbook and open your eyes. Income inequality is associated with the premature death of 40,000 Canadians a year. The richest 1% are on target to own two-thirds of all wealth by 2030. Our cities have become investment opportunities. Immigrants and racialized communities are being scapegoated by fucking nazis and dogwhistling politicians. Our wages have stagnated. Our social programs have been cut. We don’t need incremental progress. We need a goddamn revolution. For the climate. For our First Nations. For our workers. For us.

On the flip side, we need to be wary of those who co-opt the language of social justice for their personal political brands. God knows, he fooled me: Tenants’ mayor and voluntary renter Kennedy Stewart needs to stop inserting his tale of woe into housing crisis. At the same time, you have to be equally critical of the media doing very much the same thing. I doubt Charlie Smith had renters’ interest in mind when he wrote this. This could easily feed into right wing populist rhetoric as well and sets a dangerous precedent that one can’t advocate for the working class unless you are a member of it. I’d let his voting record do the talking on this one.

To wit: City of Vancouver considers clearing homeless out of Oppenheimer Park. “Clearing homeless” has an awfully simple ring to it. Not “re-house”. Clear. Like…presto change-o, they’re gone! Again, incremental progress and stability for all!

“Well, last time it happened, the city leased a motel. It was a proper motel. It had bathrooms in each room. You know, it wasn’t perfect housing by any means, but it was way better than a crummy SRO or just moving people to another tenting site–of which there are none.”

Indeed. Maybe it’s time to have a sanctioned camp site. It’s a radical idea proposed by tireless anti-poverty activists like…Charles Gauthier? Vancouver business leader proposes sanctioned camp site, services for homeless. First Pacific Centre and now the president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Association? You know it’s topsy-turvy land when business leaders are talking more sense than our elected officials.

I mean, I proposed as much a decade ago when I heard about United We Can and Architecture For Humanity inheriting the old fabric from the Canada Place sails. But who’s going to listen to a piss-ant blogger, am I right? Pivot Legal agrees but with some caveats:

We agree that people living in tent cities should have access to essential resources such as washroom facilities, water, and places to cook. We agree that the “enforcement approach” is not a suitable response for municipalities to take towards homeless community members.

We also want to be clear that a city-sanctioned tent city
1) doesn’t replace the need for proper housing
2) should not be used as an excuse to ban homeless people from other public spaces and corral them into one highly policed location. In the absence of affordable housing, people should be able to survive wherever feels safest to them. Safety comes before business interests.

The only supply-side solution worth mentioning: Opinion: Canada needs a rebirth of co-op housing. I can’t read the article behind its paywall so here’s Michal Rozworski’s take:

A big rebirth of coop housing would be the correct mix of bottom-up democratic control over an important part of life alongside major investment and regulatory support from the state. Something that sets an example for 21st-century democratic planning and has the potential to defuse the housing crisis for many.

Satire of the day: Nation’s architects admit they don’t know what they’re doing.

Bonus: Vancouver’s first skatepark celebrates 40 years of carving and community.

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