Fifth annual Women’s Housing March protests lack of social housing
// Christine Jamieson

On Sept. 17, hundreds of people of all ages, genders, and social classes marched through the Downtown East Side (DTES) in support of social housing for women. The fifth annual Women’s Housing March toured around the city, visiting key sights such as condos and boutiques that have had, the organizers say, a negative impact on people living in the DTES, particularly women.
One of the main reasons given for the demonstration was to protest gentrification. This word refers to the changes that result when wealthy people acquire property in low-income and working class communities. It is commonly believed that this results in the poorer residents of the neighbourhood being unable to pay for increased rent, house prices, and property taxes, therefore being displaced and pushed out of their homes.

“It’s a problem down here when they have [unsafe and unsanitary] housing,” said Cathleen Brigg, a participant in the protest. “I don’t live in social housing myself; I live in the suburbs, but I do believe that even if we don’t live in the street [or in low-income neighbourhoods], we need to be supportive of [those who do].”

“We focus on specific experiences of women who live here,” said organizer Harsha Walia. “[We try to] raise awareness for business and condo owners, as well as show that the lack of safe and affordable housing for women makes them more vulnerable for abuse, for poverty, for addiction, for losing their children.”

The march started at 1:30 p.m. at the intersection of Cordova St. and Columbia St., and proceeded to E. Hasting St. and Main St., where police blocked off traffic for the protest. Many people held signs; others had megaphones or musical instruments like drums or tambourines.

Though the spirits were high, Walia was quick to remind the crowd that this was the site of the recent death of 50-year-old Verna Simard, who fell from her hotel window last Friday night. This was exactly the type of incident that the march was trying to raise awareness of and prevent. “Without safe and affordable housing, many women are forced into unsafe and violent situations, leading to the ongoing tragedies of child apprehensions and women being murdered,” explains Walia.

The event was put on by the Downtown East Side Power of Women Group, which holds many events during the year to bring attention to women in the DTES. It also helps get women who are in poverty and women who are suffering with addiction back on their feet. Roni Seymour, a participant and organizer of the march for several years, pushed the fact that events and groups like this need more support from the general public because of what they do for women who are suffering from poverty and addiction.

The march made several stops to point out businesses and sites that the group called ‘gentrifying sites’. One of the stops was a high-end coffee shop, Milano Coffee Roasters, where Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) performed a mime show that ridiculed the customers and workers of the store.

The performers and the crowd asked the customers, “Do you like being stared at? Do you like being gawked at? Do you feel welcome?” Sonny, a resident of the DTES, stated, “[We’re not trying] to be mean, [but] I’m going to be kicked out of my home soon…because of places like these. [Society] is divided into the rich and the poor…[and] the rich are killing us.”

Other places that were pointed out as the march went past included The Charles, Acme Café, and Salty Tongue.

Police attempted to control the crowd by making threats and blocking off streets on foot and using patrol cars. “We are just doing our job,” stated one officer when asked if the protest was an annoyance. “It’s one of the fundamental freedoms that people are allowed to protest. People also have to feel safe, that is why we are here.”

The march was followed by a ‘DTES block party’ at E. Hastings St. and Main St., where participants were able to enjoy pancakes and listen to DTES residents speak about how development has affected their lives.

“This is our way of asking for help, from society and from the government,” declared Sonny. “They want less people on the street? Then put in more social housing.”

// Christine Jamieson

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