Burnaby’s Only Homeless Shelter – Inside the Metrotown demovictions occupation

Photo by Ivan Drury

On Saturday July 9, the Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign and Alliance Against Displacement began an occupation at 5025 Imperial Street in Burnaby’s Metrotown neighbourhood. The occupation began to draw attention to the more than 5,000 rental units in the area expected to undergo “demoviction” – or eviction through demolition – in the next few years. In the lower Mainland’s tight housing market, low-income and working class demovicted tenants often have nowhere to go aside from makeshift housing on family and friends’ couches, or in the harshest cases, makeshift shelters outside.

Nowhere is this clearer than at 5025 Imperial Street. Since the occupation began, five unhoused people who formerly lived on Burnaby’s streets have taken up shelter inside the apartment building. Each tenant is given their own key to their own unit, providing safety, privacy and a sense of collective community with other housed squatters and former Imperial Street tenants. At a rally in front of the apartment building on July 8, a Nisga’a man named Carl shared that he had spent 25 years homeless, waiting all of these 25 years for a key to his own space – a living space that he finally found at the Metrotown demovictions occupation.

While Mayor Corrigan claims that there are only 30 unhoused people within the city limits of Burnaby, the massive rate of demovicted units points towards an ongoing and accelerating housing crisis. The epicenter of this crisis is the Metrotown area. Metrotown is a working class and low-income neighbourhood undergoing rapid gentrification. According to the 2006 Census, the average income of Metrotown residents was $28,000, making it the lowest income threshold in the city of Burnaby. More than 50% of residents spent one-third of their income on rent. These numbers are now ten years old, and it is hard to find more recent information about the area since the long-form census was cut by the Harper government. But all you have to do is walk around the neighbourhood to see the visible effects of displacement and gentrification.

And displacement and gentrification in Metrotown hit some harder than others. The area has historically been a central location for new immigrants, and in 2003, 60% of government sponsored refugees settled in Metrotown. Anecdotal evidence from refugee settlement organizations points towards the intense impact of the neighbourhood’s changes on immigrant and refugee populations. Whereas 75% of these organizations’ clients once lived in Metrotown in 2003, they now report that none of their clients currently reside in the area – a fact that further reveals the rapidly decreasing supply of affordable, low-income rental units.

Amacon, the development corporation that owns 5025 Imperial Street, has shown zero interest in the livelihood of the former tenants of the apartment building, or the current homeless residents who find shelter there from city streets. Amacon has sought an injunction to call for the immediate removal of the squatters, enforceable by the RCMP.

On Thursday, July 14, the Demovictions occupation appears in the B.C. Supreme Court for an injunction hearing at 9:30am. The results of this hearing will be reported at a 11am news conference in front of the building. The Metrotown Demovictions occupation requests support and community attendance at the news conference and at a 5pm family-friendly BBQ and vigil for the community’s lost housing. Visit @stopdisplacemnt on twitter or Against Displacement on facebook for further updates.

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