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The Olympics Are an Opportunity to Put Affordable Housing Back on the National Agenda

The 2010 Olympics are finally here.  Recent polls show that only 50% of Vancouverites support them.  Rather than focusing on what divides us, it is time to harness the energy and focus our agenda on a genuine crisis that continues to cripple our communities around the province – homelessness.

Though many of the commitments in the Inner-city Inclusive Commitment Statement have been abandoned and more bad news will be delivered such as reneging on the commitment to have 250 units at the Athlete’s Village, we have an obligation to recommit ourselves to the core values that Canadians believe in - particularly the idea that a just society is one worth fighting for.

Red tents will be sprouting up around the city in an action led by the Pivot Legal Society.  In an effort inspired by a similar campaign in Paris, civil society organizations will be not only highlighting our continuing challenges with homelessness, but trying to utilize the Olympic spotlight to set the direction for future public policy reform.
There are now more than 200,000 homeless Canadians from coast to coast to coast. There are somewhere between 10,500 and 15,000 homeless people in BC. Approximately 1.7 million Canadian households are in core housing need, representing over four million Canadians.

It is wonderful that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be in British Columbia the next few weeks and will also address the BC Legislature.  The Prime Minister needs to take leadership on housing by asking his caucus to support Bill C-304 when Parliament resumes.

Between the end of the Second World War and 1993, the national housing program built 650,000 units which still house two million Canadians. The market system, left to its own devices, is incapable of creating a sufficient supply of affordable housing.

In 1996, the UN Centre for Housing and Human Settlements recognized Canada's co-op housing program as a "global best practice".  In May 2006, in a periodic review of Canada, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights called Canada's homelessness situation and affordable housing crisis as a "national disaster".

A national vision for non-market housing, in partnership with municipalities and provinces, is one of the only ways we can stabilize this crisis. This was a crisis created by government policy and it can be ended through innovative government intervention.

In its current form, Canadian housing policy is a health and human-rights disaster. A homeless person dies every 11.4 days in B.C.
Health-care workers have a difficult time providing care for patients who do not have a roof over their head. Employment agencies are unable to help find work for people if they have no place to sleep. It is cheaper for governments to house a homeless person than to leave that person in the street.

Building social housing is also a great economic stimulus measure during this economic downturn. Vancouver East NDP MP Libby Davies is bringing forward Bill C-304 to Parliament in the spring. It is the first opportunity in a very long time that could set the stage for re-establishing a robust, funded social housing program again in Canada.
Mr. Harper, the ball is now in your court – let us all hope that you have the wisdom to take leadership.

(There will be a rally for a national housing program on Saturday, February 20th from 12-2pm at the Vancouver Art Gallery).

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