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The sun was breaking through clouds early this morning onto Vancouver's day-old Tent City as the early-risers and those-still-awake gathered around campfires to dry out after the night's rain. About 50 tents and canvass shelters occupied an empty lot owned by Concord-Pacific, leased by VANOC for Olympics parking. The lot has been empty the duration of the Games.
Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES) Power for Women (POW) group organized Tent City to highlight the injustice in the Olympics' $6 billion budget. The intent of the occupation is to demand "no more empty talk, no more empty lots," and calls on the city of Vancouver and the BC government to begin making good on pre-Olympics promises of increased funding for social housing.
Tent City has been endorsed by over 100 organizations, but more importantly, according to Harsha Walia of POW, it has the support of DTES residents. Plans for how long the lot will be occupied by Tent City depend on who wants to stay.
"We won't go. This is Native land. Tent City stays here as long as we want it to," said Ricky, resident of the DTES and residential school survivor.
"It's about time we're looking after ourselves," said Stella, another resident of the DTES, "because no-one else will. I support this big time. There is no reason for people to be homeless."
Signs and banners have been draped over the chain-link fence surrounding the lot. "Empty Lots. Empty Promises. Homes Here Now," "Billions For Games? Good Governments Meet Real Needs," and "Playing Games With People's Lives."
A sign hung from a window of a neighbouring apartment: "Build Resumes, Not Tents."
"We can't apply for a job with missing teeth. We can't apply for a job without the proper attire," said Elaine Durocher of POW. "We need help. Help us help ourselves."
Recognizing that Tent City is located on unceded Coast Salish territory, Harsha Walia of POW announced a successful first night. One hundred people – DTES residents and supporters – spent a rainy first night in Tent City last night.
"We want to make clearly visible the need for housing in Vancouver," she said at a press conference this morning on East Hastings Street. "We don't need condos. We need homes." Walia said no-one who comes into Tent City needing a place to sleep will be turned away.
"This is a safe site, a sanctuary, and one that makes clear what our priorities are: social housing."
"I'm a refugee from the oil industry," said Peter Deranger, a Dene Cree elder from Fort McMurray.
"I now live in the DTES in shelters because the government is generating money off my land, where I used to live for free."
Eric Castonguay, originally of Trois Rivieres, Quebec, but who now lives in the DTES, spent the morning gathering wood for fires
"If I get $375 [monthly welfare housing allowance in BC], do you think I'm going to be able to rent a condo for $800? A tent is free!"
Residents and organizers are demanding affordable housing, and a stop to gentrification in the DTES and the criminalization of poverty.
"Some of the things we're asking for are free," said Tristan Markle of VanAct, "like new housing laws."
"Some will need investment. Vancouver does not need more athletics. We need more housing. And now is the time to bring this up," he said.
During the run-up to the Olympics, "Vancouver was promised 800 new housing units per year. We got none. We were promised 200 [single resident occupancy] upgrades per year. We got almost none."
Markle said the spirit of Tent City would keep growing "until as much money is spent on housing as has been spent on the Olympics."
"People keep asking [Olympics resisters] to just enjoy the Olympics. I think we'll just enjoy Tent City."