Let’s take the Red Tent Campaign National

red tents on Seine River in 2006

On Saturday February 27, Pivot Legal’s Red Tent Campaign is asking folks to join them at Keefer Place at noon. The Red Tent Campaign kicks off the launch of the national phase to pressure the Canadian Government to develop a funded national housing plan.

Here is a portion of their announcement:

“The Games are almost over, but the Red Tent (http://redtents.org/) campaign is just getting started. Come out and join our Olympic Wrap-up party as we launch our campaign onto the national stage with a clear message for the Harper Government- Canada needs to end homelessness now!

Come down to the Canada Pavillion this Saturday and help us spread the message that housing is a right. We’ve got 150 red banners that call for a funded national housing strategy and we’re ready to wrap up the entire Pavillion.”

red tent campaign

While some may feel that the Olympics is not the time to have protest about housing, I think it is appropriate given the long history of the advocacy undertaken by PIVOT and other community organizations committed to improving housing. The issue of homelessness and affordable housing was identified as problem early in Larry Campbell’s term in office in 2002. The City of Vancouver (CoV) passed its Homeless Action Plan (HAP) in 2005. It is not as if any level of government does not know what needs to be done. It has always been about political will. If the same political will has applied to the Olympics had gone into addressing the issue of homelessness and affordable housing then the issue would have been resolved by now. This is not saying anything negative about the Olympics.

Back in spring of 2007, as a Director of the West End Residents Association (WERA), I was invited by Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Centre Action Project (CCAP) to participate in a new coalition that was being formed to do advocacy on the issue of homelessness and affordable housing.

In the West End we had been working on this issue for some time and it only made sense to join our efforts with others in the city to try and develop solutions. WERA participated in a 2006 homelessness count in the West End that documented 97 folks living on West End streets. At this time WERA was also participating in the Renters at Risk Campaign, which responded to the growing trend of evictions for renovations and also with problems with Resident Tenancy Act (RTA), which regulates rental suites. WERA was well aware of the need to do advocacy around the issue of homelessness and affordable housing through participating in these projects.

The coalition that Wendy invited me to join eventually became known as the City-Wide Housing Coalition (CWHC) and is still in existence now. One of the first things that this group did was to organize a forum and invited all Members of Parliament from the Lower Mainland to speak to solutions to the issues of affordable housing and homelessness. The CWHC was advocating for a comprehensive housing policy as outlined in the City of Vancouver’s 2005 Homeless Action Plan (HAP). The title of the forum was “Where is Ottawa on Homelessness?”. Ujjal Dosanjh, Hedy Fry attended for the Liberals and Libby Davies and Bill Siksay attend for the NDP. None of the Conservative MP accepted our invitation to attend.

In March 2007 the Inner-City Inclusive Housing Table Report was released from a group of business, government and community leaders who were asked by VANOC to make recommendations on what steps would need to be taken to ensure that the games would not negatively impact the city.
ICI Report

The report reiterated recommendations from the CoV’s HAP in terms of recommendations that need to be taken to solve the issue of homelessness and affordable housing at the different levels of government. It was the intention of City-Wide Housing Coalition at this time to do advocacy with the ICI document and to really make a push that the long-term legacy of the Olympic games should be addressing the issue of homelessness and affordable housing.

The CWHC started asking folks from the whole city to write the Prime Minister of Canada to advocate for a national housing plan. WERA wrote a letter to the PM.

So now its 2010 and still all the problems of homelessness and affordable housing continue to be with us. The question remains: where is Ottawa in proposing solutions to the issue of homelessness and affordable housing?

In France in 2006 a group of young Parisians developed a plan to shame their national government into action on the growing problem of homelessness in Pairs. The group was known as ‘The Children of Don Quixote’ (Les Enfants de Don Quichotte) and they purchased red tents and line the portions of Seine river with these tents and asked people to spend a night in the tent. The campaign was a success and the French government developed legislation to fund a national housing plan.
news story about french red tents

Red tents on Cambie bridge Feb. 20, 2010

So what I have just outlined are just a few of the steps that various groups have done to peacefully advocate solutions to a very real and visible problem. There have also been huge and little rallies, trips to Victoria, the 2010 Homelessness Hunger Strike Relay, letter writing, median events/releases, etc. etc. What does it take for this message to be heard by our elected government so that they will take steps to address and ultimately solve an issue that clearly should be in their jurisdiction to address?

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