Warehousing Is Not Housing
VTAG in Solidarity with Unhoused People against Displacement and Warehousing
In May 2020, the City of Victoria stopped enforcing restrictions on 24/7 camping in parks to support unhoused people to “shelter in place” during the COVID pandemic. Despite being well into BC’s third COVID wave, the City, through a memorandum of understanding with the Province of BC, will resume enforcement of these camping restrictions on May 1, 2021. This will force everyone currently sheltering in Victoria parks to pack up their tents and belongings every morning and move throughout the day before finding somewhere to shelter at night. The COVID pandemic prompted BC Housing to make hundreds of indoor units available to those sheltering outside, but many of these units are temporary and transitional, and far from filling the dire housing need. Now, shelters are the only option and unhoused people are being given the choice between daily displacement and congregate shelters where they risk COVID infection. Quite reasonably, many unhoused people are fearful of losing their home, community, health, belongings, and tenant rights with promises of permanent housing that may never come to fruition.
As an organization of people who do not own their homes we are in solidarity with unhoused people who are resisting displacement and warehousing. We are deeply concerned that instead of addressing and preventing the root causes of homelessness, the City and Province are creating a system of warehouses for people thrown to the wolves by the commodified and speculative housing market. Disappearing visible homelessness does nothing to address the pathways into homelessness and housing precarity that many of us are at risk of as we struggle to afford life in a government-condoned housing crisis. Rather than warehousing people and hiding visible homelessness, we call on governments to 1) halt all displacement and allow people to shelter in place 24/7 during the pandemic and beyond; 2) commit to affordable, adequate, accessible, and autonomous housing for all.
COVID exacerbates the harms of displacement and warehousing
In 2008, unhoused people in Victoria won the legal right to shelter themselves in parks in the absence of other options. That same year, the City of Victoria established bylaws to limit sheltering to night-time only. Since then, unhoused people have paid the cost of daily displacement: physical and psychological harm; loss of community, family, home, and stability; increased threat of racial and social profiling; cop, bylaw, and NIMBY harassment due to increased visibility; decreased access to health and social care; and exacerbated health issues and risk of death.
COVID response measures reduced access to daytime drop-in and living spaces for unhoused people. As a result, the City of Victoria stopped enforcing the night-time only camping bylaw to support unhoused people to “shelter in place.” Resuming enforcement of the camping bylaw interrupts the survival of people who are providing one another safety and community despite being homeless in a global crisis. Displacing and warehousing people in congregate facilities increases COVID transmission risk that disproportionately affects racialized and low-income people, and those with underlying health conditions. Halting displacement efforts and allowing unhoused people to “shelter in place” in a pandemic is the right and safe thing to do. Until there is appropriate housing for all, unhoused people should be allowed to shelter 24/7 in Victoria parks without harassment and targeting.
Failing to Address the Root Causes of Homelessness
The City and the Province will sweep homeless people out of parks at the end of April to satisfy public demand and appear to be doing something about the housing crisis. But nothing is being done to actually address and fix the root causes of homelessness. The housing supply in Greater Victoria is chronically unaffordable. There is massive oversupply of housing for high income earners, and a persistent lack of affordable housing for middle and low income earners. While nearly 50% of renters are in need of housing appropriate to low and middle incomes, less than 14% of the City’s rental stock is affordably priced for those renters. Therefore, even if everyone without indoor shelter on April 30 is moved inside on May 1, evictions will continue and new people will become unhoused. The cycle of housing precarity and homelessness is fluid, and the consistent failure of all levels of government to adequately address the housing unaffordability and unavailability that are among the root causes of homelessness guarantees the continuation of that cycle. The Province has extended the rent increase freeze for current tenancies, but has made no move towards vacancy control regulations that would make the rent increase freeze an effective tool. Thus, rents have continued to increase in Greater Victoria beyond the allowable rent increase and despite the economic hardships created by the pandemic. This City was unaffordable before COVID-19 hit, it remains unaffordable over a year into this crisis, and will remain unaffordable until the government steps in and takes effective action to rein in soaring costs. Sweeping people out of parks into an uncertain patchwork system of shelters and temporary housing without an explicit path to permanent housing will not stop more people from finding themselves homeless and on the streets. This is neither housing nor a solution to homelessness.
Warehousing Is Not Housing
We are concerned that the Province’s numbers do not add up and that many of the indoor spaces offered are temporary not permanent. The ability to access the proposed units are wrapped up in complicated application forms and procedures that are inadequate. Moreover, we are deeply concerned about the quality of units being offered – that people have to give up their rights, belongings, pets, and family in return for a roof. The shelters that are being offered are “housing” insomuch as they offer residents roofs and walls, but they are not a solution for the lack of affordable, adequate, accessible, and autonomous housing that plagues our community. This is a program of warehousing. The Hey Neighbour/Tiny Homes Village project by Aryze Developments and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness in particular resembles a prison-like system of warehousing. The units are only 32 square feet larger than the minimum requirements for a Canadian prison cell. Access will be controlled by a metal wall and 24/7 security, and residents will not be permitted to have guests.
The Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) clarifies that shelters and transitional housing do not fall under the Act. While permanent supportive housing does, residents of new (and existing) supportive housing developments are often required to sign “program agreements” rather than “tenancy agreements”. Housing providers argue that these agreements trump the RTA forcing residents to fight their landlords in court or without key mechanisms to hold their landlords accountable. We are deeply concerned about this move toward institutionalizing and medicalizing affordable housing. Every renter must look at this situation and recognize that our governments are refusing to address the injustices in our housing system. Instead, they are creating the modern equivalent of the Victorian-era poor house. Stripped of the basic dignities of citizenship, those left behind by the quest for more and greater profit will be further pathologized, scrutinized, and warehoused to protect the profits and aesthetic sensibilities of the wealthy and powerful. This is not housing or a solution to homelessness.
VTAG calls on both the City and Province to halt evictions from the City’s parks. We demand that our governments develop plans to address the root causes of homelessness and desist from coercive efforts to displace the unhoused into a flawed, patchwork system. As people who don’t own their homes, we are in solidarity with unhoused people and call for affordable, adequate, accessible, and autonomous housing for all. We call on governments to 1) halt all displacement efforts and allow people to “shelter in place” 24/7 during the pandemic and beyond; 2) commit to affordable, adequate, accessible, and autonomous housing for all.