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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    Squatters Demand Housing Before Olympics

    Tent City in for Long Haul

    Chris Carr

    Vancouver's Tent CityWhether it stays in part at Victory Square, or expands its base at Crabtree, or whether it relocates yet elsewhere, Vancouver’s Olympic tent city will continue to advocate against the policies of the BC Liberal regime and for social housing, say participants.

    Dozens of squatters set up 30 tents in Victory Square July 2, the day Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympic bid by the International Olympic Commission. Since then a second squat at Crabtree Park in the Downtown Eastside has formed, with more possibly to come.

    The squat has already faced some challenges, including a rub-up Canadian war veterans’ representatives on the weekend. The vets had arrived to supervise the start of renovations to the square to be completed before the next Remembrance Day on Nov. 11. They were concerned the protest might delay the work, and the square would not be ready by that date.

    At first, things were tense. Tent city squatter Russell Nolin told reporters, “the war is like my ass. It’s behind me.”

    The comment infuriated veterans like 86-year-old Dick Wilson. “I can understand they are hungry and homeless and they want to do something about it. But we went through the war. This monument is here for those who died in the war, and the renovations are badly needed.”

    But Nolin later apologized for his comment and saying he appreciates the sacrifices the veterans made and the hardships they went through.

    Veteran spokesperson Frank Helden sympathized with their concerns but says Victory Square is the wrong place to hold such a demonstration, since it is the only place where veterans can go to pay respects to the victims of war.

    Protesters say there is no conflict with the veterans, but with the ruling elite in the province and its politicians in Victoria, and they vow to continue their efforts. The Vancouver Park Board, while expressing support for the tent city cause, agrees with the vets that Victory Square isn’t the right venue. The board asked the squatters to begin moving on Tuesday, although it did not give any formal deadline.

    In fact, by awarding Vancouver the Winter Games, the IOC invariably provided the Anti-Poverty Committee, the main sponsoring group for the city, with the banner sized backdrop necessary to juxtapose the two sides of what they call an on-going class war between the rich and poor in British Columbia.

    It’s not the first time Vancouver has seen a squat erected by advocates fighting for social housing, and until there is a change in the federal and provincial government spending priorities, it won’t be the last. Indeed, the $1.3 billion being allocated for the 2010 Winter Games have some people calling on the government to re-evaluate its spending priorities. 

    “I think a lot of people are over the fantasia that the Olympics have wrapped around their eyes. Maybe they’ll realize they aren’t going to have a house or a TV to watch the Olympics on [in 2010],” said APC Spokesperson and Tent City Organizer David Cunnigham.

    “So maybe priorities are going to be set straight. Maybe it is more important for people to get social housing, not to watch a hockey game,” Cunnigham added.

    The participants, a collective that includes the APC, the Housing Action Committee, and a group of about one hundred squatters, respectively, are calling on the Provincial and Federal governments to address a number of fundamental issues. Primarily, the squatters are calling for an end to the two-year time limit on receiving welfare in BC. As well, the participants want the government to take immediate steps toward providing social housing for those most in need in the province, an action that would mean providing at least 2000 units of social housing for the city’s growing homeless population.

    The squatters also want construction of social housing units in the currently vacant Woodwards building to begin immediately.

    “These are the places that can be converted into social housing,” Cunnigham said standing before the buildings to which he was making reference. “There’s no lack of space for social housing, it’s just a lack of initiative. There’s more than enough money,” he added.

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