Marching together for housing justice: Interview with Karen Ward

VANDU housing march, March 2014
VANDU housing march, 2014


The Second Annual City-wide Housing March organized by VANDU will take place on Saturday, October 10, 2015. It will begin with a noon rally at 955 East Hastings Street (Campbell Ave and Hastings Street). The Volcano caught up with Karen Ward, one of the organizers of the march.

The VANDU Housing March is happening in the week prior to the federal election. We hope to garner some attention in the city at large and reopen a pretty stagnant conversation about public housing and about the housing crisis more widely.

I think it’s important that this initiative is organized by VANDU on a grassroots basis because in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) we feel the housing crisis most intensely, as a result of gentrification, frozen welfare and shelter rates, and the pressures against low-income people living in the heart of the city. Traditionally low-income people have lived here and we are being pushed out literally block by block.

Particular to Vancouver, our march on Oct 10th is right at the beginning of Homeless Action Week, which is a strange city initiative where they apparently celebrate their achievements regarding homelessness. However homelessness has never been so high in the DTES and throughout the city. And when we talk about the numbers we have to remember that we are talking about people who are living an ongoing tragedy, tremendously let down by the system and by our society in general. It’s important to bear that in mind every time we talk about homelessness.

It’s also relevant that we’re getting wide support for the march from outside of the downtown core and that’s appropriate because homelessness has spread well beyond the inner city into the suburbs, in Abbotsford and Maple Ridge, in all kinds of places like that. As well, homelessness is present in places in the interior of BC and up north where they haven’t necessarily had experience with it before. It’s part of a larger pattern of neoliberalism and oppression, and that’s a big part of our message.

In organizing the march, we also aim to empower members of the VANDU housing group as leaders, to speak about these issues and show how their implications are much more serious than any isolated incident. We’re trying to draw attention to the context as well as the shear content of homelessness and the housing crisis.

We’re not particularly interested in bombarding people with numbers, but we are very interested in talking about the housing crisis in human terms. And that’s why we will march.

City-wide Housing March:
The Demands that Unite Us

  • Adequate, healthy, and secure living conditions;
  • Address the root causes of poverty through a national anti-poverty plan;
  • Stop gentrification in its tracks, protect all affordable housing;
  • Build homes not jails, end the criminalization of poverty;
  • Follow a real definition of social housing at rates affordable for low-income people and pensioners;
  • End housing racism and all forms of tenancy discrimination, including discrimination based on mental health, addictions, physical or cognitive dis/ability, citizenship status, gender identity, source of income, and other forms of landlord discrimination.
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