New NDP ministers tour Vancouver’s tent city, Downtown Eastside

The Sugar Mountain Tent City on Vancouver's Powell Street. Jeremy Lye / CKNW

Residents of a tent city near Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside say they’re taking a wait-and-see approach to a visit by two B.C. cabinet ministers on Tuesday.

Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson along with Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson visited the Sugar Mountain tent city as a part of a tour of the DTES at the invitation of residents and community groups.

“We toured the tent city, we went down on to Hastings Street, we looked at some SROs, we looked at some other housing, we looked at sites like 58 West Hastings where they want to build housing,” Simpson said.

READ MORE: Residents of new Vancouver tent city say relations improving with city

Simpson called the visit a crucial part of learning his new file.

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“A critical piece of it is to get in and talk to people in the community,” he said.

“You can always get briefing notes, and they’re important… but that doesn’t take away from what you can learn from sitting down with people who are living the experience every day.”

READ MORE: A B.C. mom navigated a ‘fragmented’ system to find her opioid-addicted daughter on the DTES

CKNW spoke to some of the tent city residents, who said while they appreciated the ministers’ visit, they were waiting to see tangible improvements in the housing situation.

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NDP government to review Liberal housing programs

Simpson offered no new policy proposals to that effect, but said the NDP remains committed to the housing issue – both in terms of the construction of new units in the long term, and in finding better short-term housing options for people currently living in tents.

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READ MORE: Affordable rental project could turn housing into Vancouver’s ‘Hunger Games’: activist

In the meantime, he said the visit left him better equipped to see the issues through the eyes of people living in the Downtown Eastside.

“And we got to understand it from the point of view of women, for example, The First Nations women there whose children have been taken into care because they can’t find appropriate housing and their young children have gone into care. Now these women are desperately trying to find housing.”

Late last month, Robinson told CKNW’s Jon McComb there was no timeline in place for new housing initiatives.

In its election platform, the NDP pledged to build 114,000 affordable housing units over the next decade, introduce a two per cent speculation tax, and bring in a $400 a year renters rebate.

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