RainCity Housing: Playing an NGO’s role in policing the poor

RainCity’s 3030 Gordon Avenue, which people in the community call simply “3030,”  is the only shelter in the Tri-Cities area. It is run by a Vancouver-based non-profit housing and shelter operator called RainCity Housing and Support Society, which operates hundreds of units of supportive housing. One side of the building is supposed to be “transitional” housing, but given that there is no affordable housing for people to transition into, the label “transitional” just means that tenants there are denied their rights under the Residential Tenancy Act. The other side of the building is a shelter.

Although 3030 staff regularly call the police to displace unhoused people who gather outside the front door, there are almost always people there, often people who have just been made homeless, including by eviction from 3030. Because people in shelters have no tenancy rights, they are evicted totally at the whim of shelter staff, who can arbitrarily pick who stays and who goes without oversight or accountability to the low-income communities who butter their poverty-industry bread. This is a story about a few of those arbitrary evictions.

On January 15, a fight broke out in the 3030 shelter. In response, RainCity summarily evicted five people onto the streets, without any concern for how the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage on. Alexandru Macovei, who goes by Romanian Alex, remembers hearing a woman screaming in her room. He ran over and found a guy on top of her, whom he fought off. He was evicted that night. 

Romanian Alex outside 3030 Gordon (Listen Chen/The Volcano)

Romanian Alex said the day after his eviction, “I don’t know why I got kicked out. I was given 15 minutes to get my stuff. I have to make an appointment to get the rest of my stuff. There should be protections for us. They get paid to provide us shelter by the government. I’m screwed. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have some clothes and don’t know where I’ll sleep tonight. It’s terrible. I have no legal recourse. I didn’t sleep last night. I went to Gates Park and cried.” 

“The worst thing is the shame they make you feel. You get here, start building up your life, then they kick you out.”

Kevin, former RainCity shelter user

When Romanian Alex asked the staff where he was supposed to sleep after they told him he was evicted, they printed out Google Maps directions to a shelter in Maple Ridge, gave him a compass card, and told him he had 45 minutes to get there before they gave up his bed. 

Alex Pelletier was also evicted on January 15. He was stabbed in another physical fight at the shelter, taken to the hospital, and then told upon his return that he was evicted. Pelletier had been staying at the shelter for a year and a half. The day after, he said, “It was so cold last night. We’re not even allowed to sit outside the shelter.”

Omid, who was evicted by RainCity in December, is often outside 3030, but his ability to rest there is contingent on the attitudes of whichever staff are working. Whether a staff decides to call the police, or allows Omid to sleep in the heated vestibule of the entrance, is up to them. 

Omid explained that being homeless in the Tri-Cities makes rest virtually impossible: “I go sleep at the ATMs but the cops arrest me. There’s nowhere outside we can stay. The security guards won’t let us stay anywhere. It’s like it’s illegal to be homeless. I get harassed by the police daily, 2-3 times a day. We don’t need to be degraded. We’re humans.”

Kevin, who had also been evicted on January 15, spoke about the emotional weight of being under the nearly absolute control of the poverty industry. “The worst thing is the shame they make you feel. You get here, start building up your life, then they kick you out.”

RainCity Housing has always worked closely with police and bylaw officers in operating 3030 Gordon. Reporting to Coquitlam City Council on October 24, 2018, a year after the shelter opened, RainCity Co-executive Director Catherine Hume assured Council that RainCity was “tracking” people who breach the shelter’s curfew and that Bylaw officers and the RCMP were addressing the supposed problem of loitering. 

RainCity’s punitive evictions and facilitation of police and Bylaw surveillance and criminalization shows that poverty industry NGOs are, alongside prisons and cops, an essential part of the system of policing poverty – where one ends, the other begins. Abolishing the police means abolishing all institutions of surveillance, repression, criminalization, and control, including RainCity.

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