Community organisations put out a call to action to protect women amidst housing crisis

Activists are condemning the violence against tent cities and the lack of effort to address the conditions that give rise to encampments

This image is of the downtown east side in Vancouver. Multiple tents can be seen in the middle of an abandoned lot.
Indigenous women are especially affected by this crisis, making up 45% of women experiencing homelessness. PHOTO: Randy Laybourne / Unsplash

By: Chloë Arneson, News Writer

Content warning: This article mentions acts of gender-based violence and violence against Indigenous peoples. 

On August 16, several organisations published a joint press release titled, “Women are not acceptable casualties in the response to the housing crisis.” The organisations who collaborated included the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, Battered Women’s Support Services, WISH Drop-In Centre Society, and Atria Women’s Resource Society. They condemned the city’s disregard for womens’ safety as the city sweeps homeless encampments in the downtown eastside. 

These encampments, also known as “tent cities” have lined the sides of several streets in Vancouver for many years, offering residents a sense of safety, security, and community. Marie Jameson, who lives in one of these encampments, told North Shore News about the importance this community serves in her life. “These are our neighbours,” Jameson said. “They’re our families. If someone gets sick, we look after them.”

On July 25, Fire Chief Karen Fry issued an order to remove all of the tent cities in the downtown area, citing safety concerns around fire hazards. Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart told the Vancouver Sun he supported Fry’s order. He noted Vancouver has recently opened 1,100 units of shelter-rate housing. As city crews continue to dismantle shelters, concerns are being raised as to how this will affect the hundreds of unhoused individuals who are left with nowhere to go. 

The press release condemned “those acts of violence, as well as the continued lack of strategy to address the homelessness crisis.” Specifically, they call upon the city for “a concerted, nuanced action that prioritises women’s safety. 

“Women are among those at greatest risk in encampments,” they said. Alice Kendall, the executive director of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, discussed how their organisation sees an increase in gender-based violence due to tent cities. They explained tent cities occur due to overlapping issues including “the housing crisis, opioid crisis, deadly drug supply, lack of appropriate mental health care, and deteriorating access to general health services.” 

“No sustained effort has been made to address the systemic, institutional conditions that give rise to the extreme levels of intimate partner, domestic, and sexualized violence experienced by women in the community,” said Angela MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services. “Considering all this violence, the last thing we need now is the Vancouver Police Department coming to the neighbourhood to bust heads of impoverished and unhoused people.” 

Indigenous women are especially affected, facing both racial and gender-based violence. “These hardships intersect with centuries of sexist and racist colonial policies. And like everywhere, gender-based violence goes often unchallenged, unreported and unnoticed,” the release states.

The community of women-serving organisations is urging the city to create a “structured, concerted, anti-sexist, trauma-informed response” to the crisis. “We cannot settle for tent cities that re-emerge and grow each year,” they state. “Women’s safety cannot wait. Women deserve to be and feel safe in their communities and in public spaces, and women deserve to be safely and appropriately housed.” 

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