Date 17 May, 2023
Last week we released our initial findings from the BC Eviction Mapping project. The project is the first of its kind in BC, and our first official systems change project that challenges the systems that keep people trapped in cycles of poverty, homelessness, and marginalization. Work on this project began almost a year ago—a testament to the sometimes painfully slow pace that meaningful systemic change moves at. So much of that pain is because there is an emergency now. People are becoming homeless today. With each day that passes the situation becomes even more dire.
And that’s where FIRST UNITED has stepped in to offer support: in crisis, when people need help urgently. We will continue to meet the community’s pressing needs, and our vision for the future now includes long-term structural solutions too. While acknowledging the need for urgent solutions, structural change also must take time to ensure that it’s thoughtful, comprehensive, and inclusive of community involvement. Listening and understanding community needs must be incorporated into all social justice work, which can’t be rushed.
The results we’ve gathered and stories we’ve heard are devastating. One story included a multi-generational family in which parents, grandparents, and children lived together in a unit. After being evicted, they moved into a single motel room–the whole family, together—and stayed there while they tried to find a new home but weren’t able to find anything affordable. Eventually, they ended up in shelters and the family was separated from one another, including the parents having to go into different shelters. We don’t know what happened to the children in this case. We heard numerous other stories of families being evicted, and kids having to be sent to live somewhere else because the parents couldn’t find adequate housing.
Our systems are truly broken if children are ending up homeless or separated from their families because of eviction.
If you’ve never faced eviction before, let alone in the current housing market, it can be hard to imagine the reality. Or, it can seem simple to just dispute it through the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB). Survey respondents explained in their own words what the challenges are:
“[My] landlord says he will give me another eviction notice when this one is done.”
“[We received multiple] eviction notices in [multiple] months for different reasons. When [the landlord] lost the arbitration, she came up with another reason.”
“We won repeated attempts to evict us. Years of it. Eventually we lost. I lost year of my life to this.”
For those who didn’t file disputes with the RTB, they explained why:
“[It] would have cost money and I didn’t have money to spare.”
“I tried [to dispute] but the process was very onerous, complicated and took too much time, especially when I wasn’t sure of what would come of it.”
“It’s a small town…Filing a claim would jeopardize my ability to find housing here in the future.”
Evictions in BC are a serious issue, and the impacts tenants are facing are not isolated incidents. BC is in a housing crisis worse than ever before, and it goes beyond just affordability—people are being forced out of their homes with long-lasting impacts. This is why we chose to take on this work: because systemic change is needed for long-term solutions and justice.
For the sake of the future of the Downtown Eastside and of people finding themselves homeless across BC, we need to change our systems that perpetuate inequity.
This is justice alongside charity. Over the decades, FIRST UNITED has engaged in what we describe as both charity and justice work. We give people shelter, we fill hungry bellies, we reverse overdoses, we file taxes and fight for folks’ rights…These are all important things that our neighbours rely on every day to get by and survive. And while we do this work we are gearing up to focus even more of our justice work on getting to the root of poverty and homelessness. Addressing the root causes of the cycle of poverty is justice. It has the potential to change the circumstances for thousands rather than using band aid solutions.
We believe that the BC Eviction Mapping project will provide undeniable evidence that BC’s tenancy law system is broken and that by advocating for systemic change, it will improve the lives of individuals and families across the province for years to come. This is justice and we’re here for it.