News From Gordonville

Posted on February 4, 2010


The Olympics are almost upon us.  In commemoration I thought I would  reprint a trio of pieces I did some time ago for the Anti-Poverty Committee.

Unhousing the Poor in Gordonville

Scrooge made that vital first connection between charity and prisons. Asked to give money for the poor at Christmas, he replied, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

Scrooge was not a sentimentalist, nor are those who presently administer poverty in Gordonville, Gordon Campbell’s British Columbia.

Take for instance Dunsmuir House, formerly located at Richards & Dunsmuir, providing until recently 166 SROs (single room occupancies) and 23 shelter beds for low income single men in Vancouver.  The Salvation Army wanted to replace Dunsmuir House with a new facility, and went before Vancouver City Council for permission to do so.  What would happen to the 189 present occupants? they were asked.  They would move to the new facility, was the reply.

But in fact only about 25 of the tenants relocated to the new facility.  Why?  It seems unlikely that it was because they found high quality replacement accommodation elsewhere for $325 a month.  That kind of accommodation is rare.

Belkin House, which is the facility the Salvation Army built to replace Dunsmuir House, is located at 555 Homer Street.  From the outside, the building is stark-modem, like a parking garage with windows.  On the door is a Vancouver City Police decal.  Inside people sit in booths behind bullet proof glass and talk to you through intercoms.  They control the opening and closing of doors.  They buzz you into the hall.  They buzz you into the living area.  They control all stairwells and exits.

This is shelter as prison, Sally Ann and Big Brother joined in unholy matrimony.

Scrooge would be glad at heart.

With the Olympics on the horizon, housing for people living in Canada’s most unfashionable neighbourhood—Vancouver’s skids—is under severe threat, just as it was during Expo 86.  Various civic bylaws and policies address this issue, and they have the theoretical capacity to protect some of these people, but they are unenforced and ignored when they become inconvenient.  They were, for instance, simply put aside when, contrary to bylaw and policy, the former Dunsmuir House was converted over to a student and backpackers hostel.

Meanwhile city police are systematically closing down hotels in the Downtown Eastside, further reducing the available housing.   When the hotels are closed down the tenants are simply evicted.

Eviction is a delicate issue, of course.  To deal with it, a senior officer of the Salvation Army has been hired to hand out the necessary eviction notices.   Apparently, in the view of some, the biggest problem with being arbitrarily tossed out on the street is the quality of people they send round to hand you your notice.

I wonder if those evicted appreciate how tastefully they have been eased out of their homes?

Hundreds of people every year are losing access to affordable housing as the Olympics approach, and the problem will continue to get worse as the date gets closer and the Olympic tourism feeding frenzy gains momentum.  Meanwhile we have prison as shelter.

A guest at Belkin House, standing outside the glass door waiting to be let in, was asked about the accommodations at the new Salvation Army shelter.

“Yeah, it’s like a jail,” he said with a laugh. “But you know, we Indians are used to that.”

Now that’s the administration of poverty in Gordonville.


And then a reminder that the police started by taking a direct hand in creating the Olympic homeless situation which Vancouver now faces.

New Olympic Sport Proposed


Gordonville. The Chief of Police today announced his proposal for a new Olympic sport, the Olympic Eviction Toss.

“I see events in the four person, two person and individual categories, for both male and female police officers,” he said.

Asked about scoring, he said: “Of course, scores will have to be calculated according to the weight of the person being tossed, the amount of resistance they put up, the distance thrown, and other factors, such as whether they have lawyers.”

And what about Gordonville’s chances in the proposed new event?

“We’ll have time to practice before the Olympics in 2010. I’m confident that by then the Gordonville Police team will be top form and ready to qualify for the medal rounds,” said the Chief.


And a reminder of the time when Vancouver was still trying to decide on an Olympic mascot. …

Mascot Selected for Olympic Games


Gordonville. In a surprising fit of honesty, the Gordonville Olympic planning committee today announced the selection of Homeless Dan as the mascot for the 2010 Olympic Games in Gordonville.

“After long deliberation, and looking at the facts, we decided that Homeless Dan best represented the spirit of the 2010 Olympics,” explained a planning committee spokesperson.

“We also thought that with Olympic cost overruns of millions of dollars the taxpayers would appreciate a mascot who would work for food and handouts.”

The committee announced that the search has already begun for a suitable candidate.

“We have people out already scouting food lineups, alleyways and tent cities,” the spokesperson for the committee said.

They expect to put together a shortlist of suitable candidates by noon at the latest.

Posted in: politics