Monday, February 12, 2007

Countdown clock to Olympic homelessness unveiled

Wendy Pederson is no slouch as an organizer. The thirty-something mother of two, with flaming red hair, has previously organized everything on the Downtown Eastside from the Whitecaps Stadium to a Block Party outside her Downtown Eastside apartment for the entire neighbourhood. From a family of gill netters – Pederson Hill in Surrey is named after her family – Pederson is now organizing on behalf of Vancouver’s homeless.

Pederson and a group of about 50 demonstrators shadowed Premier Gordon Campbell on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery this afternoon as he unveiled a giant clock to countdown to the Olympics just three years away. Pederson and her crew unveiled their own hand-made clock on the lawn, a clock for the “Countdown to Olympic Homelessness”.

The clock identifies the year 2010 as “Doomsday”, a time when homelessness will have tripled since 2006.

Pederson was recently hired as an organizer against homelessness by the Carnegie Community Action Project at Main & Hastings. Indeed many of the people who showed up at today’s demonstration are familiar faces from the Carnegie Community Centre.

Today, Pederson not only took a political approach to the issue of homelessness but a spiritual one. Developers are driven by “a factor of greed”, she explained, and promised repeatedly that developers and politicians would experience “true happiness and love” if they housed the homeless.

But Pederson wasn't without concrete steps for achieving this true happiness and love. "We need legislation from the city to protect the existing housing" from being converted to condos which are unaffordable to low income people, she says. She also wants a committment from the federal and provincial governments to fund more low income housing. And she wants welfare rates jacked up.

Of course not everyone agrees with such taxpayer-funded meddling in the free market. The opposition was summed up by a recent caller to the Bill Good radio show who challenged anti-homlessness advocates: he pointed out that most working people can’t afford to live in Downtown Vancouver, so it didn’t make sense to him for government to provide apartments in that core for people on welfare.

But the left-leaning Carnegie Community Action Project and their supporters are, Pederson believes, “on the logical high ground”. What's more, Pederson is not without a plan. She figures if she can get 20 people to each organize 20 more people to work for action on homelessness, she’ll be rolling.

[This posting may be updated as Mayor Sullivan has been asked to respond to claims made by Wendy Pederson.]