Continuing the fight for Homes Not Jails

We agreed to move from tent city to 844 Johnson Street on the promise that housing would improve our living conditions not make them worse. We were promised that Portland Hotel Society (PHS) would offer us *different* housing than the institutional, supportive housing we had experienced in the past. We were promised rights as renters under the Residential Tenancy Act. We were promised inclusion in decision-making about building operations and policies. We were promised job opportunities.  We were promised community kitchens where we could make our own food. We were promised storage for our belongings. We were lied to.

At tent city, we created our own communities and experienced belonging and control over our own lives. Under the management of PHS:

  • There is no accountability. PHS recently argued to the Residential Tenancy Branch that we DO NOT have normal renters’ rights because our building is a ‘medical facility.’
  • Our choices, ideas, and participation in running our homes and lives is disregarded and disrespected. We are ignored and lied to. For instance, we have developed a Residents’ Council with representation from every floor (15-20 participants, weekly) and we are written off and ignored by management. We are never consulted on any decisions in the building.
  • Our health is in steady decline. We are at risk of being locked in the building due a lack of fire safety in the building.  This building is dirty. We are experiencing worsened physical, emotional, and mental health now that we have housing!
  • Our privacy is being violated. Before we moved in, the doors were taken off the washroom in our suites. We (and our guests) do not have privacy to use the washroom. The common washrooms on each floor are locked resulting in people inappropriately using our common showers to shit and piss. We are under constant surveillance, and our personal information is shared with cops, Ministries, and outside organizations.
  • We are suffering extreme criminalization. It feels like we are living in a jail and our rooms replicate jail cells.  We have to ask permission to enter and exit our home. If we are politically active, then we are targeted. PHS is charging us with crimes to drive us out resulting in court-ordered conditions that limit our freedoms. Police presence in and around the building is almost daily. Police are given free entry to our building and to the cameras. Residents are being triggered by police and exhibiting post-traumatic stress responses from personal histories of dealing with police violence and repeated incarceration.

PHS’ guest policy is unreasonable and discriminatory against people who are homeless and living in poverty. The requirement of ID from our guests ignores the barriers faced by homeless people in getting ID and it is a violation of privacy for PHS to collect the other type of personal information they collect in the absence of ID. We are experiencing social isolation as a result of not being able to have our family and friends over. We have reviewed decisions made by the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) on guest policies in other buildings and in several cases the RTB found that guest policies that restrict hours for guests and/or require guests to show identification breach section 30(1)(b) of the Residential Tenancy Act. We sent a letter to PHS management about these concerns on December 14, 2016 and we were ignored, yet again. Now we are undergoing an RTB legal process.

As the Resident Council of the Johnson Street Community Project, we have the following 4 demands for PHS:

1/Recognize our rights as renters under the Residential Tenancy Act by providing each of us with NEW Residential Tenancy Agreements. This is not a medical facility and we are NOT sick people who need your help. We need our rights!

2/Stop criminalizing us!

  • Remove ALL video cameras and recording devices in the building.
  • Reverse ALL the charges you have laid on your residents. These charges are unjustified and harmful.
  • Stop calling police for health issues (e.g., mental health issues). Management and staff should be trained in non-violent crisis intervention. Police presence results in arrests, forced confinement, and charges, NOT help.
  • Don’t let the police hang out in and around the building. It is unsafe for us! Don’t let the police in unless: 1/ staff or residents call for help in emergency situations; 2/ they have a warrant for someone IN HAND; 3/ they are in fresh pursuit.
  • End the collection and sharing of our personal information with police, ministry workers, and outside agencies.

3/Recognize our rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of peaceful assembly:

  • Ensure access to common rooms on each floor for us to hang out and conduct meetings.
  • Throw out the current guest policy and install a buzzer system so we can have control over who comes into the building
  • Recognize the legitimacy of the Residents’ Council and working with us to improve the homes and lives of our friends and family
  • Open up the common washrooms on each floor for us and our guests

4/Ensure our rights to life, liberty and security of the person!

  • STOP LOCKING US IN OUR BUILDING AND ON OUR FLOORS; never lock the stairwell doors!
  • Give us keys to the front door so we can move freely
  • Provide areas to prepare and cook our own food
  • Provide secure, storage space for our belongings
  • Ensure that building codes are kept up to standards
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