Single-resident occupancy housing advocate celebrates a victory — but warns of dire pandemic impacts on Downtown Eastside residents

Wendy Pedersen, 2018 file photo by David P. Ball
Wendy Pedersen, 2018 file photo by David P. Ball
Laurence Gatinel - CFRO - VancouverBC | 24-11-2020

By David P. Ball
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Wendy Pedersen, with the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative, says city plans to buy up to 105 SRO hotels worth $1 billion was a total surprise.

It's important to celebrate community organizing victories, explained a long-time Downtown Eastside housing advocate on Tuesday.

Even the small victories, noted Wendy Pedersen on the latest episode of The Pulse on CFRO. So after years of pushing for governments to buy at least 10 single-resident occupancy (SRO) hotels in the city — many concentrated in the DTES — her jaw dropped when the City of Vancouver announced it had secured $1 billion to buy up to 105 of the buildings.

Of course the devil is in the details, but the advocate with the DTES SRO Collaborative said it marked a major milestone in housing activism in the city, and she says advocates and DTES residents should take credit for the major announcement. But she also singled out the election of leftist Coun. Jean Swanson to city council in the last civic election.

Now it's up to the same social forces, she said, to hold the government to its promise, and to continue their fight for the safety and affordability of housing in SROs, whether privately run or non-profit. Many residents have been hit during the COVID-19 pandemic with mandatory no-guests-allowed policies — which Pedersen said has worsened the opioid overdose crisis when people are told to always use drugs with an observer.

But the pandemic and its associated shut downs has also severely endangered people's mental health because of isolation in tiny rooms without bathrooms or sometimes even kitchens, no common areas, and being cut off from visitors in many cases.

It's a reminder of why the fight for housing that's both affordable and safe is more important than ever, Pedersen said.

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