Monday, April 14, 2008

The Housing Crisis in Vancouver is now a Human Rights Violation

Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

We have a tendency to look at crises in housing as "Third World" problems, however, we are dealing with epidemic levels of HIV and Hepatitis C infection, social exclusion, and poverty right in our backyard in the ten-block radius known as Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Botswana has an adult HIV prevalence rate of 24.1%, the second highest in the world after Swaziland. In the Downtown Eastside, the HIV rate grew from 4% in 1992-1993 to 23% by 1998. It's now sitting around 18.6%. The reduction may be partly due to harm reduction initiatives in Vancouver, including the opening of North America's first safe injection site (Insite) in 2003.

In response to epidemics such as this, the Pivot Legal Society, the Impact on Community Coalition, and the Carnegie Community Action Project is officially filing a Human Rights complaint to the United Nations, arguing that the City of Vancouver has breached Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since winning the 2010 Olympic bid in 2003, the City has converted or closed more than 1000 single room occupancy (SRO) beds through loopholes that allow tenants to be evicted while landlords carry out renovations to buildings. The City has purchased 17 SRO hotels, promising that they will be dedicated to social housing. This is, however, only 20% of the stock homes in he neighbourhood. This means as many as 5000 more people who are already on income assistance will end up on the streets by 2010.

Stephanie Levitz of The Canadian Press notes that "In 2006, a UN committee described the state of homelessness and inadequate housing in Canada as a 'national emergency,' and in the fall of 2007, the UN special rapporteur on housing took a two-week tour of Canada and recommended a national large-scale project of social housing" (April 11, 2008).

The complaint will take approximately 18 months to be resolved, just in time for the 2010 Olympic games. In the meantime, however, we are left with a crisis that is still actively displacing individuals and their families -- while the world watches in wait...