British Columbia

Housing, homelessness and a history of discrimination come together at 1 Vancouver intersection

At the corner of Union and Gore, a number of homeless campers ares growing on a site that was once a key part of Vancouver's black community. As the city moves forward on housing at that location, community advocates want to see mistakes of the past avoided.

Green space by Dunsmuir Viaduct is home to benches, trees, a footpath and a growing tent city

A growing number of homeless campers have been establishing themselves on green space at the intersection of Union and Gore streets in Vancouver. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

In Vancouver, the hot-button issues of housing, homelessness and a history of discrimination come together at the corner of Union and Gore.

There, a piece of city land — primarily green space divided by the east end of the viaducts — is home to a few benches, some mature trees, a footpath, and, increasingly, people living in tents.

"It's looking good here," said Robert Makela. "The SROs that aren't run by B.C. Housing are charging $600 to $750 a month for rent, infested with cockroaches. And those that are B.C. Housing, they make all your friends have government ID."

Makela said that he's in no rush to get out of his tent, but the site is a concern for some neighbours.

However, the city has long-term plans for the area which could be modified depending on the outcome of the upcoming municipal elections.

Temporary modular housing has been proposed for the green space. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Housing coming

One business owner, who declined to be interviewed on the record, described calling the city to complain about the campers over concerns about crime and drug use.

But others say they are more supportive of the campers and are sympathetic to their plight.

Temporary modular housing has been proposed for the campsite. Some were enthusiastic about that prospect, while others are concerned about the loss of green space.

However, Abby Bond, director of affordable housing for the City of Vancouver says that if the modular housing were to be built, it would include a fenced-off garden area for its residents with the remaining green space kept for the broader community.

However, Bond said, "long-term, there are plans, as part of the Northeast False Creek planning process to actually build out the site for [permanent] housing."

Stephanie Allen wants redevelopment in False Creek to include opportunities for black Vancouverites. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Shameful past

The future of this site, however, is intricately linked to its past.

It was once part of Hogan's Alley, the heart of the city's black community. Residents were gradually displaced in the city's attempts to revitalize the area, beginning in the 1930s. The neighbourhood was finally razed to the ground when the viaducts were built in 1972.

Stephanie Allen, a director of the Hogan's Alley Society, said early-stage negotiations are ongoing between her group and the city to turn the land into a land trust to be stewarded by the black community to ensure it will be affordable housing in perpetuity.

"We did that, specifically, to consider the people in our communities that are struggling for a place to live and leaving this town," Allen said.

The Northeast False Creek plan has been formally approved by council but before the construction and implementation phase, staff must report back to council to get authorization.

Decisions about some details of the plan will be up to the next city council.

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With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast