Vancouver activists campaign for national social housing strategy (Red Tent Campaign), 2010

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Timing
Time Period:  
15 February
2010
to
28 February
2010
Location and Goals
Country: 
Canada
Location City/State/Province: 
Vancouver
Location Description: 
Downtown Eastside
Goals: 
The goals of this campaign included raising awareness of the lack of social housing in Vancouver, convincing the Conservative government to proceed with a National Social Housing Policy, and to raise awareness of the government's broken promises of an Olympic Housing legacy.
 

During the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with the entire world watching, the Pivot Legal Society and the City Wide Housing Coalition held a nonviolent campaign. This campaign was an attempt to put pressure on the federal government to establish a National Social Housing Policy, to raise awareness of the magnitude of homelessness in Vancouver and to expose the government's failure to keep their promise of an Olympic housing legacy.

The Province of British Columbia along with Olympic organizers (VANOC) made a plan before the Games to convert the temporary housing built specifically for the Olympics to 252 affordable rental apartments dispersed throughout the province for those at most risk for homelessness. Due to financial difficulties, the number of rental housing units was cut down to 156 and the project was delayed. Canada was the only member of the G8 that did not have a federal housing plan in place, and it showed through the estimated 300,000 homeless across Canada. The Pivot Legal Society reported that 1,448 units of social housing closed in Vancouver after winning the right to host the Olympics. The 2010 Games led to an increase in homelessness and a decrease in affordable and social housing due to gentrification (renovations causing living costs to rise) and ‘cleaning out’ neighborhoods in order to maintain a good image for the Games.

In order to attract attention to the magnitude of the homelessness problem in Vancouver and to put pressure on the government to establish a federal social housing plan, Pivot Legal Society spoke with the City of Vancouver in January 2010 about distributing 500 bright red tents to the Vancouver homeless. These red tents bore slogans like ‘Housing is a Right!’ and ‘End Homelessness Now!’ These tents were also used in order to provide shelter for all those left homeless partially due to the neglect they faced by the government leading up to the Games.

Because a B.C Supreme Court ruling in 2008 ended the anti-camping bylaws that would not allow tent dwellings in public areas in the city, there was not much that the city of Vancouver could do to rid the streets of these red protesting camps, despite extensive efforts. Originally, the bylaw was put in place because the homelessness problem in B.C. was said to be going against Canada's 'right to life' and 'right to shelter'. The city's efforts to find a loophole in this bylaw that allowed for tent dwellings in public areas failed and were ineffective in stopping this campaign. The city councillor Kerry Jang did not express support of this campaign, blaming Pivot Legal Society for exploiting the homeless for their own self-gain through a Public Relations initiative.

Nonetheless, on February 15, 2010, hundreds of people came to Pigeon Park in a troubled Vancouver neighborhood. Elaine Derocher from ‘Power of Women’ spoke on solutions to homelessness while the group set up an ‘Olympic Tent City’ in the area for the homeless. Native elders then led a march through the neighborhood while beating their hand drums, arriving at the ‘Olympic Tent City’.

The campaigners then distributed 500 tents throughout the Downtown Eastside. Their campaign also included handing out leaflets, activists sleeping alongside the homeless in Red Tents, concerts, street theatre, marches and hunger strikes. On February 21, 2010, hundreds of people showed up at the Vancouver Art Gallery with signs that read ‘The People Say: Build Homes Now!’, ‘Homes Not Games’ and ‘End Poverty, it’s not a Game’.

The last Red Tent Olympic action happened during the last weekend of February 2010, where hundreds of activists gathered at the Canada Pavilion to wrap it in 142 red banners announcing that housing is a right. Bill C-304, which called for a federal housing strategy, was not passed by the Conservative government. This campaign did not achieve their goal in seeing Bill C-304 being passed. However, awareness of the homeless problem in Canada was raised, and Liberal and NDP politicians began to grow their support of the bill.

The Red Tent Olympic campaign ended with the closing of the Olympics in Vancouver, as the efforts of the campaign was geared towards raising awareness on a global scale during the Olympics. However, the Red Tent advocates have now decided to continue in their struggle all across Canada, with smaller scale actions starting again after the closing of the Olympic campaign.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Hui, Stephen. (Dec 4, 2009). Homelessness doubled ahead of Vancouver Olympics, report shows. Straight.com. February 29, 2012. http://www.straight.com/article273777/vancouver/homelessnessdoubles-

ahead-vancouver-olympics-report-shows

n.a. (January 25, 2010). Housing activists plan Olympic 'red tent' campaign. CBC News British Columbia. Feb 29, 2010. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/britishcolumbia/story/2010/01/25/bc-red-tents-homeless.html

Paulson, Monte & Dembicki, Geoff. (February 16, 2010). What's driving Olympic Homeless Protesters. The Tyee. February 29, 2012. http://thetyee.ca/News/2010/02/16/PaulsenRedTentGames/

n.a. (March 4, 2010). Latest News. Red Tents. February 29, 2012. http://www.redtents.org/news?page=2

Dembicki, Geoff. (January 25, 2010). 'Red Tent' Campaign Planned for Homeless during Olympics. The Tyee. April 1, 2012. http://thetyee.ca/News/2010/01/25/RedTentCampaign/

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Vanessa Driedger, 29/02/2012