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DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE - Parents, kids and housing activists took time out to celebrate a rare victory this morning. They gathered at the future site of the Strathcona Public Library on East Hastings following the announcement that housing for single moms and kids will be part of the project. The YWCA is sponsoring the 15-20 units of supportive housing.
On hand at the City-owned site were many of the people who have been pushing for social housing there for the past year. The site is one of those targeted by the 10 Sites Campaign for social housing in the area. With hugs, songs and custard tarts they celebrated a victory that looked hopeless until the surprise YWCA/Library announcement this week.
While Vision Mayor Gregor Robertson took credit for the plan at the official press conference, it was really two homeless activists who got the ball rolling. Last summer, Fraser Stuart and Rene Belanger hooked up with the Carnegie Community Action Project to get 1,400 signatures on a petition demanding social housing be included above the library.
"We couldn't believe the City would build a project like that in this part of town without housing. This is the best outcome we could hope for," says Stuart, "it means that while the other nine sites are going to be an uphill fight, we now know that it is possible."
When the petition was presented to City Council by about 50 housing activists, they were told it was too late - the decision against social housing had already been made.
Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council organizer Dave Murray remembers the feeling leaving City Hall that night: "We were so let down, they voted 9-1 against us. I remember walking away very depressed thinking that was that." Murray adds that kudos must go to City Manager Penny Balem in this case. "Many of us were surprised, but she said she would take it on and, to her credit, she made it happen."
The campaign didn't give up after City Hall's snub - they disrupted a speech by the mayor at the businessmen's Vancouver Club, they met with the Library Board and held news conferences at the site.
CCAP organizer Wendy Pedersen told the victory crowd that " this is an example of what we can do, and of the strength our community has that many people don't think we have."
Ann Livingston, from the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, lauded the move, saying that too often single moms are moved into supported housing outside the area. "They end up isolated and without services nearby" like the YMCA's Crabtree Corner daycare across the street on Hastings.
The 10 Sites Campaign, spearheaded by the DNC, is calling for a commitment from the City to social housing on 10 specific sites before the fall civic election.