Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
December 3, 2001
Poor protest local housing crisis
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Living on social assistance and suffering from bronchitis, Rita Pike almost always has to choose between rent and food money versus health money.
"There seems to be no light in this long tunnel of struggle for daily survival," Pike told about 500 people gathered in a vacant lot between 96th and 97th streets south of 105A Avenue in Edmonton's inner city, Nov. 22.
To make a public testimony about her plight in life is difficult for Pike. But she stood up and told her story to protest the lack of housing for the poor.
"The gross income I am living on is really gross," Pike said.
Jim Gurnett, a spokesperson for the Edmonton Coalition on Homelessness, told the rally that more than 1,200 people are homeless every night in Edmonton.
Due to very few new rental units being built in the city and a rental vacancy rate of one per cent, 1,400 people are now on the waiting list for affordable housing, Gurnett said.
The vacant lot where the protest was held was earmarked for affordable housing but will instead become a provincial government parking lot.
"That just shows a complete disregard to the kinds of crises that thousands of Edmonton families are living in," Gurnett told the WCR.
To solve the need for emergency, transitional and special needs and low-cost housing in Canada, provincial and federal governments need to commit only one per cent of their budgets, Gurnett said.
The federal government promised $170 million a year for affordable housing. While none of that money has begun to flow, the Alberta government has made no commitment to match this allocation.
City Councillor Michael Phair came to make a proclamation from Mayor Bill Smith, stating that Nov. 22 is Homelessness Action Day in Edmonton.
"It is shameful that we have people living on the streets," Phair said.
"We know and we recognize that the city needs to play a bigger role about this issue."
A number of people shared their grim stories of housing problems, including Reg Taylor.
Taylor, who was homeless for five years, said he lived wherever he could find shelter. Once he lived in a car and for 11 days sneaked past security guards to sleep in the Royal Alex Hospital.
Bruce Fox, a gifted musician, shared his long-term battle with clinical depression and with housing troubles. "I need some hope and home," Fox sang.
Thelma Carter, talked about living in a house with neither heat nor power during the winter with her two children, after she was evicted from a previous residence for not paying rent.
She described the five-month ordeal to be horrible especially given that one of her children has special needs.
"The plaque was really great, but we need to see more than that," she said, referring to the mayoral proclamation.
Phair said he agrees with Carter.
"Absolutely they do need more than that," Phair told the WCR.
Phair said the city's proposed budget included allocation for building affordable housing.
"There's still more to be done and certainly we need to be doing (action) like this, but there's more."
Debra Jakubec, who works for HIV Edmonton, said that looking for affordable housing has always been a problem for their clients.
"It's just impossible to get them anything or to refer them to get some help with accommodation."
Dennis Freeman, city director of housing services, said there is a need for 5,000 affordable housing units in Edmonton.
"There is no single solution to homelessness as there's a diversity of problems," Freeman said.
"The city has to be judged by the way it treats not the small percentage of its rich people but the growing percentage of its poor."
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