Press Release: Academics Call on BC Government to End Homelessness, Not Tent Cities

Click here for PDF version of release and original 101 signatories

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (May 27, 2016)

VICTORIA, LEKWUNGEN TERRITORY: More than 100 academics and researchers from across BC are calling on Premier Christy Clark and Minister of Housing Rich Coleman to abandon legal efforts to dismantle Super InTent City. The letter has been issued in response to renewed efforts by the provincial government to again apply to the BC Supreme Court for an interim injunction application against the homeless residents currently living in Super Intent City on the court house green space in downtown Victoria.

The letter points to growing unfounded hostility that has become common in public dialogue and media portrayals that serve to increase inaccurate perceptions about homeless and low-income people. The letter notes that, “Stigma and discrimination have profound negative impacts on individual and group health and well-being, especially for those with few resources to resist such portrayals.  Equally concerning is that such animosity is obscuring the evidence and promoting inaccurate beliefs that public inconveniences may be outweighing the benefits of the tent city for its vulnerable residents.”

The letter serves to address a recent report issued by the Victoria Police Department that was produced in response to calls from the public. The letter clarifies that, “In the case of Super InTent City, the media and police are reporting that calls to police have increased. Calls to police are evidence of people making calls to police, not evidence of increases in crime.”  Tent cities have not been found to increase crime but studies have found that misconceptions of people living in poverty commonly lead to increased public complaints when tent cities are established.

An evidence-based response to homelessness would mean the provision of safe, affordable and appropriate housing using a Housing First model, a liveable income and essential health and social services such as supervised consumption sites.  To date, all of the Province’s offers to tent city residents have been temporary, transitional or emergency shelter spaces not permanent housing.

The letter calls on the Province to engage in evidence-based policy decisions that will serve the interest of the public, including unhoused individuals who are part of our communities. “Your response to Super Intent City is and will be a marker of how your government intends to respond to homelessness.  We strongly urge you to respond based on the evidence rather than based on stereotypes and discrimination.”

End Homelessness, Not Tent Cities

An Open Letter to the Province of BC from BC Academics and Researchers

Dear Minister Coleman and Premier Clark,

As BC academics and researchers, we are writing to speak against displacement of Super InTent City in downtown Victoria. Rather than use the coercive power of the courts and police to displace this tent city, we are calling for the province to see this moment as an opportunity to reverse policies and political processes that have caused displacement and homelessness to be a dominant feature in major Canadian cities today. We support public investment in real solutions to homelessness and stand with the residents of Super InTent City in the call for adequate housing, income and essential health services.

The existence of Super InTent City is visible evidence of the failure of governments to adequately deal with the legacies of colonialism and neoliberalism that governments, including your own, have created.  The critical question posed by tent city is:  Will your government continue a legacy of criminalization and displacement of homeless people or will you have the courage to see tent cities as a clarion call to action to change policies and invest in the housing units needed in this province as well as ensuring that everyone has a liveable income and access to essential health and social services? We are speaking out against an injunction today because we believe that the government treatment of Super InTent City will be a marker of your policies towards homeless and low-income people in the years to come.

Housing is the right response to homelessness

Housing First is accepted by both academia and the Canadian government as an evidence based best practice model. While Victoria has adopted a Housing First philosophy, it has not been possible to implement because the supply of housing is simply not there.[i] [ii] [iii] Victoria has a particularly acute homelessness problem because its rental housing market is unaffordable with very low vacancy rates, especially in low end of market unit, making it inaccessible to people living on low incomes. On one night in February 2016, 1,387 people were counted as homeless in Victoria (the actual number is much higher as this study could not assess the number of ‘hidden homeless’ sleeping in cars or living in overcrowded or unsafe conditions). All of these people simply do not have access to safe, affordable and acceptable housing. This number has increased since 2007.

There are current shortages in both temporary shelter and long-term housing in Victoria.[iv]  For years, Victoria shelters have run over capacity and the only available spots are mats on the floor; and often people are turned away. There are 277 people on the wait list for supported housing and more than 1400 in line for social housing, a number that has been consistent since 2009. The number of spaces available is not sufficient for the number of people in need. Although pressure wrought by Super InTent City has won some new sheltering options in Victoria, many of these are emergency shelter and temporary spaces, not permanent housing.  The Minister claims 180 spaces have been added. However, the majority of these spaces are temporary and transitional and at least 80 of these spaces are emergency shelter spaces and not actual housing units.  The situation is similar in other locations in BC. Tent cities are the product of austerity budgets that have cut social housing spending in Canada; we need to end austerity in order to end tent cities. We call for a significant investment in housing options including a regular social housing program to build at least 10,000 units of social housing (at welfare and pension rates) every year in British Columbia to help end homelessness.

Increased public hostility is not evidence of increased harm
We are deeply concerned about the increasing negative media portrayals of Super InTent City and the potential for inciting public rage towards all people who are homeless and living in poverty. It is well recognized and confirmed by academic research that media can reproduce stereotypes and accelerate narratives that serve to stigmatize and criminalize people because of the color of their skin, sexual orientation, gender, disability, sex work, poverty or HIV status. In Victoria, this includes the rise of community groups such as Mad As Hell that are promoting negative and stigmatizing portrayals of people who are homeless.  Stigma and discrimination have profound negative impacts on individual and group health and well-being, especially for those with few resources to resist such portrayals.  Equally concerning is that such animosity is obscuring the evidence and promoting inaccurate beliefs that public inconveniences may be outweighing the benefits of the tent city for its vulnerable residents.

The BC Government last applied for an injunction against Super InTent City in February. In denying the application Supreme Court Chief Justice Hinkson echoed the findings of studies in the U.S. when he found that the harms caused to tent city residents by displacement far outweighed the inconvenience caused by the existence of the tent city. A study of tent cities in the US found that it is typical for housed residents to oppose tent cities in their neighbourhoods, claiming that tent cities raise crime rates and threaten public safety. However, “evidence suggests that concerns are largely unfounded,” and that there was no significant increase in crime resulting from tent cities.[v] In the case of Super InTent City, the media and police are reporting that calls to police have increased. Calls to police are evidence of people making calls to police, not evidence of increases in crime. To report such statistics about tent city on a public website and not for other places where people mingle (such as shelters or local pubs) is an example of discrimination and social profiling. We would note that while total calls (not crime) may have increased, monthly calls in March and April showed a downward trend.  This fact was never reported.  It is well established that public outcry can create a kind of political hysteria in the community and the media that is not reflective of realities.

Public drug use demands resources not displacement
Homeless people are being blamed for issues related to drug use. Some of the recent incidents cited in the media include increased reports of used needles in public space. There is no evidence that more needles are being discarded in public since the inception of Super InTent City, and no evidence that these needles are coming from residents in Super InTent City. Compared to Vancouver, Victoria has a higher rate of public injecting and fewer harm reduction services. We know that problems such as public use of drugs, discarding of needles, and overdoses, are exacerbated by housing policies that have zero tolerance for substance use.[vi] The evidence-based response to this issue is not to displace Super InTent City, but rather to ensure that all people who use injection drugs– whether housed or unhoused – have safe places to inject and dispose of needles.

In April, your government declared a health emergency because of the unprecedented epidemic of opioid overdose deaths in British Columbia.[vii] Super InTent City residents are well trained in overdose prevention and response. While overdose deaths continue to rise province-wide, there have been no fatal overdoses in tent city in 2016. Displacing tent cities in the midst of this health crisis, particularly without prescription heroin programs and supervised consumption sites in cities outside Vancouver, may well mean government-created overdose deaths.

Tent cities are economic refugee camps
Homeless people created Super InTent City as a safe place and alternative to sleeping in parks, and doorways, and as a harbour from the daily displacement of being woken and moved-on by police and bylaw officers under the nighttime-only tenting laws. In this safer space, they have found community, which helps to counter the anxiety, fear and social isolation that homeless people often experience. Connection and community are powerful supports that promote good mental health and well-being and can counter the effects of dislocation. These resources have even been shown to act as a treatment for addiction.[viii]  To displace tent city would only serve to increase the harms of homelessness and would have a negative impact on the health, safety and well-being of those living there.

In Chief Justice Hinkson’s ruling he noted the following as specific benefits for residents of Super InTent City:

  • Physical and mental health improvements (e.g., better sleep, reduction of drug-related harm, access to regular meals)
  • Improved access to social services
  • Improved physical safety due to the strong community at Super InTent City and resulting on-site conflict resolution and crisis de-escalation
  • Safe storage for people’s belongings

This is mirrored in studies in other regions. A review of tent cities across the USA found that “governments should acknowledge that tent cities represent a self-help solution to the current lack of affordable housing. Tent cities embody particular determination in the face of hardship, and local governments should support, rather than hinder, these efforts.”[ix]

Tent cities are necessary spaces for many people to survive the conditions created and perpetuated by colonialism, neoliberalism and austerity policies. Super InTent City is like an economic refugee camp. We don’t close down refugee camps by attacking them with police and scattering their residents. Even the most cynical governments know this creates further problems and causes significant harm. We close refugee camps by housing their residents. We will no longer need such camps when we change the conditions that brought them into being.

We call on the Province to fight the urge to displace Super InTent City and we ask that you have the courage to turn the tide to address homelessness by investing in, and inspiring other governments to invest in social housing, income supports and essential health services.  Your response to Super Intent City is and will be a marker of how your government intends to respond to homelessness.  We strongly urge you to respond based on the evidence rather than on stereotypes and discrimination.

Respectfully,

  1. Dr. Bruce Wallace, Ph.D, School of Social Work and Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  2. Dr. Bernadette Pauly, RN, Ph.D, School of Nursing, Scientist, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  3. Dr. Cecilia Benoit, Ph.D, Sociology, Scientist, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  4. Dr. Mikael Jansson, Ph.D, Scientist, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  5. Dr. Trudy Norman, Ph.D, Post Doctoral Fellow, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  6. Kate Vallance, MA, Research Associate, Centre for Addictions Research of BC
  7. Katrina Barber, MA Candidate, Research Associate, Centre for Addictions Research of BC
  8. Dr. Peter Hall, Ph.D, Urban Studies, Simon Fraser University
  9. Dr. Nicholas Blomley, Ph.D, Professor, Geography, Simon Fraser University
  10. Dr. Enda Brophy, Ph.D, Assistant Professor, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
  11. Dr. Jeff Derksen, Ph.D, Professor, English Department, Simon Fraser University
  12. Dr. Bruce Ravelli, Ph.D, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria.
  13. Dr. Shauna Butterwick, Professor, Department of Educational Studies, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia
  14. Dr. Eric Roth, Ph.D, Anthopology, Scientist, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  15. Philippe Lucas, Ph.D Student, Social Dimensions of Health, Graduate Fellow, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  16. Phuc Dang, Ph.D Student, Social Dimensions of Health Program, University of Victoria
  17. Sarah Wojcik, MSc. Candidate, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  18. Dr. Michelle Stack, Associate Professor, Department of Educational Studies, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia
  19. Dr. (Charles) Jim Frankish, Endowed Professor, School of Population & Public Health & HELP, University of British Columbia
  20. Gillian Calder, Associate Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
  21. Dr. Susan Boyd, Ph.D, Faculty of Human & Social Development, University of Victoria
  22. Dr. William K. Carroll, Ph.D, Professor and Co-director of the Corporate Mapping Project, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria
  23. Dr. Sibylle Artz, Ph.D, School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria
  24. Dr. Darlene Clover, Ph.D, Faculty of Education, Leadership Studies, University of Victoria
  25. Dr. Peyman Vahabzadeh, Ph.D, Director, Cultural, Social, and Political Thought (CSPT) Program, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria
  26. Dr. Budd L Hall, Ph.D, UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, School of Public Administration, University of Victoria
  27. Dr. Janni Aragon, Ph.D, Director Technology Integrated Learning, University of Victoria
  28. Dr. Margo L. Matwychuk, Ph.D, Director, Social Justice Studies, Dept of Anthropology, University of Victoria
  29. Tim Richards, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
  30. Dr. Rebecca Johnson, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
  31. Dr. Tara Ney, Ph.D, Associate Professor, School of Public Administration, University of Victoria
  32. Melvin Peters, MSW, School of Social Work, University of Victoria
  33. Dr. Leslie Brown, Ph.D, School of Social Work, University of Victoria
  34. Gayle Ployer, MSW, School of Social Work, University of Victoria
  35. Dr. Mehmoona Moosa-Mitha, Ph.D, School of Social Work, University of Victoria
  36. Andrew Ivsins, MA, Sociology/Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  37. Dr. Lauren Casey, Ph.D, University of Victoria
  38. Dr. Esther Sangster-Gormley, RN, PhD, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  39. Dr. Rita Schreiber, RN, Ph.D, Professor Emerita, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  40. Dr. Elvin Wyly, Ph.D, Geography Professor, University of British Columbia
  41. Megan Deyman, MPH Candidate, School of Public Health and Social Policy, Centre for Addictions Research of BC
  42. Lyn Merryfeather RN, Ph.D, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  43. Dakota Inglis, MPH, Research Associate, Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, University of Victoria
  44. Samantha Magnus, MPH, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  45. Dr. Kelli I. Stajduhar, RN, Ph.D, Professor, School of Nursing, Research Affiliate, Institute on Aging & Lifelong Health (IALH), University of Victoria, Scientist, End of Life Program, Fraser Health
  46. Barbara Fox, MSN, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  47. Dr. Noreen Frisch, RN, Ph.D, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  48. Dr. Debra Sheets, RN, Ph.D, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  49. Rebeccah Nelems, 2015 Trudeau Scholar, Sociology/ Cultural, Social and Political Thought, University of Victoria
  50. Diane Bomans, MA, School of Nursing, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  51. Dr. Lynne E. Young, RN, Ph.D, Professor, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  52. Margot Young, BA, LLB, MA, MA, Professor, Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
  53. Maureen Hobbs, RN, MN, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  54. Laurie Barnhardt, MN, Assistant Teaching Professor, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  55. Dr. Geoff Mann, Ph.D, Professor & Director, Centre for Global Political Economy, Simon Fraser University
  56. Dr. Gweneth Doane, RN, Ph.D, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  57. Dr. J. Isobel Dawson, RN, PhD, Professor Emerita, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  58. Dr. Lenora Marcellus, RN, Ph.D, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  59. Dr. Russell Callaghan, Ph.D, Associate Professor, Northern Medical Program, UNBC
  60. Pasquale Fiore, RN, MSc., Health Adm., Ph.D student, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  61. Dr. Marcia Hills, RN, Ph.D, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  62. Robert Birch, Ph.D Student, Social Dimensions of Health, University of Victoria
  63. Dr. Jacqueline Levitin, Ph.D, Associate Professor (retired), School for the Contemporary Arts, and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, Simon Fraser University
  64. Leah Shumka, Sessional Instructor, Gender Studies, University of Victoria
  65. Erin E. Donald, RN, MSN, Doctoral Student and Research Assistant, School of Nursing and Institute on Aging & Lifelong Health, University of Victoria
  66. Tina Revai, RN, MN Student, Research Assistant, School of Nursing and Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia
  67. Natalie Frandsen, RN, MN, Sessional Instructor, Schools of Nursing and Public Health & Social Policy, University of Victoria
  68. Meaghan Brown, RN, MN Student, Research Assistant, School of Nursing and Centre for Addictions Research, University of Victoria
  69. Dr. Matt Hern, Ph.D, Senior Lecturer, Urban Studies, Simon Fraser University
  70. Jessie Mantle, Professor Emerita, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  71. Erin Gilbert, MN Candidate, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  72. Patricia Mazzotta, RN, Ph.D Candidate, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  73. Dr. Karen Urbanoski, Ph.D, Canada Research Chair, Centre for Addictions Research of BC and Assistant Professor, Public Health and Social Policy, University of Victoria
  74. Wendy Neander, RN, Ph.D Candidate, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  75. Dr. Karen MacKinnon, RN, Ph.D, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  76. Dr. Elizabeth Bannister, RN, Ph.D, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  77. Keltie Everett RN, NP Student, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  78. Elizabeth Ringrose, RN, MN student, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  79. Geoff Cross, MA, Research Associate, Centre for Addictions Research of BC
  80. Dr. Willeen Keough, Ph.D, Associate Professor, History, Simon Fraser University
  81. Christine Upright, RN, MN, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  82. Dr. Scott MacDonald, Ph.D, Assistant Director, Centre for Addictions Research of BC
  83. Dr. Sabrina Wong, Ph.D, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia
  84. Dr. Steve Garlick, Ph.D, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria
  85. Dr. Doug Mollard, Ph.D, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria
  86. Dr. Sana Shahram, Ph.D, Post Doctoral Fellow, Centre for Addictions Research, University of Victoria
  87. Dr. Sally Thorne, RN, Ph.D, Professor, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia
  88. Dr. David Turner, Ph.D, Professor Emeritus, School of Social Work, University of Victoria
  89. Dr. Arlene Tigar McLaren, Ph.D, Professor Emerita, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Simon Fraser University
  90. Dr. Sally A. Kimpson, RN, Ph.D, Critical Disability Studies Scholar Disability and Health Care Research, Consulting & Education
  91. Dr. Anastasia Mallidou, RN, Ph.D, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  92. Dan Reist, MTh, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  93. Betty Taylor, MSW, School of Public Health and Social Policy, University of Victoria
  94. Allyson Clay, Professor, Visual Art, School for the Contemporary Arts, Simon Fraser University
  95. Flora Pagan, Graduate Student, School of Social Work, University of Victoria
  96. Sonya Chander, RN, MPH, School of Public Health and Social Policy, University of Victoria,
  97. Alyx MacAdams, Graduate Student, School of Social Work, University of Victoria
  98. Debbie Cadrain RN, MN Student, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  99. Nathan Crompton, PhD student, History, Simon Fraser University
  100. Marion Selfridge, MSW, PhD(c), Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria
  101. Bruce Alexander, Professor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University
  102. Sally Kimpson, Ph.D, University of Victoria
  103. Emmanuelle Hebert, RN, BSN, Nurse Practitioner MSN student, University of Victoria
  104. Marcy Antonio, MPH, Doctoral Fellow
  105. Janet Allan, MSW student, University of Victoria
  106. Simon Carroll, Ph.D, University of Victoria
  107. Colleen Varcoe, RN, Ph.D, Professor University of British Columbia School of Nursing
  108. Karen M. Kobayashi, Ph.D, Associate Professor and Research Affiliate, Department of Sociology and Centre on Aging, University of Victoria
  109. Linda Shea PhD, RN, University of Victoria, School of Nursing
  110. Kelsey Rounds, Ph.D student, School of Nursing, University of Victoria.
  111. Michael Young, Ph.D, Royal Roads University.
  112. Catherine van Mossel, Ph.D Candidate, University of Victoria
  113. James K. Rowe
, Assistant Professor, 
School of Environmental Studies, 
University of Victoria
  114. Kelly Sharp, MSN student, Family Nurse Practitioner Program, University of Victoria
  115. Carol Rocker, DHA, RN, Sessional Lecturer, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
  116. Gerrit Clement, JD, Associate Professor, University of Victoria and University of Northern BC
  117. Elizabeth Vibert, Department of History, University of Victoria
  118. Laura U. Marks, Ph.D., Grant Strate University Professor, School for the Contemporary Arts, Simon Fraser University
  119. Crystal James, MSW, School of Social Work, University of Victoria
  120. Thomas Kerr, Ph.D, Director, Urban Health Research Initiative, British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and Professor, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia
  121. Laura Sacilotto, RN, Med. Faculty of Nursing, University of Victoria and Camosun College

Please note that the views expressed herein are those of the individuals and not their organizations.

[i] Zerger, S., et al. (2014). The role and meaning of interim housing in housing first programs for people experiencing homelessness and mental illness. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(4): 431-437.

[ii] Norman, T. and B. M. Pauly (2015). Centralized Access to Supported Housing (CASH), Victoria, BC: Evaluation of a single point of access to supported housing. Victoria, BC, Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.

[iii] Pauly, B. M., et al. (2013). Facing Homelessness:  Greater Victoria Report on Housing and Supports 2012/2013. Victoria, BC, Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness and Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Loftus-Farren, Z. (2011). Tent cities: An interim solution to homelessness and affordable housing shortages in the United States. California Law Review, 99(1037),  p. 1060.

[vi] Pauly, B., Wallace, B.,Barber, K., & Jansen, K. (under review).  Turning a blind eye to substance use:  Harm reduction in the shadows of Housing First.  Submitted to International Journal of Drug Policy.

[vii] Provincial Health Officer declares public health emergency. https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2016HLTH0026-000568.

[viii] Alexander, B. K. (2008). The globalisation of addiction:  A study in poverty of the spirit. Don Mills, ON, Oxford University Press.

[ix] Op cit. Loftus-Farren, p., 1060.