Issue #152
Megaphone's community journalism class takes the next step

Get your tickets to #voicesthestreet launch on Apr 30 and hear some of the writers behind this award-winning issue: t.co/t30wqHGP6U Apr 17, 11:29 AM

MEGA-NEWS: Pilot program strives to help youth aging out of foster care


 Photo courtesy Province of British Columbia.


Youth aging out of foster care will soon be receiving a hand up from the province.


The Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) and the YWCA Metro Vancouver have launched a new pilot program called Strive, aimed at instilling important life skills in at-risk youth.


The ministry will be providing $250,000 in funding for 18 months to put 48 to 60 youth, ages 17-24, through 12 weeks of YWCA courses and mentorship. To put those numbers in perspective, over 700 youth are expected to age out of care this year alone.


Starting February 24, 10 unemployed youth, currently not in school, will spend four weeks at the YWCA’s Career Zone Youth Centre taking part in workshops and activities aimed at improving financial literacy and employability and plotting life goals for education, housing and work.


The final eight weeks will be focused on achieving those goals with the help of mentors and YWCA staff, and could include anything from short-term internships and training to accessing legal support and counselling.


Students will also receive a stipend, and be eligible for government’s Youth Educational Assistance Fund, which provides $5,500 in annual bursaries for post-secondary education.


Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator for First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, says the program is a positive step towards helping some of the most at-risk youth in the province: “Overall I think it’s a good thing.”


She is pleased the YWCA is involved, too, adding she has a lot of respect for their programming. Her only critique is of the program’s 12-week length.


“Learning all you need to be independent or to deal with issues you’re dealing with, 12 weeks is not necessarily possible,” she says.


“But they mentioned [in their announcement] that there is ongoing mentoring. If that’s the case, then that’s good.”

MEGA-NEWS: Harm reduction and treatment part of new provincial liquor policy


Photo by mbudemer/flickr


The province’s proposed liquor policy changes could mean alcohol will be easier for British Columbians to obtain, leading to increasing rates of alcohol abuse. But one addictions specialist says the province is moving in the right direction to reduce alcohol-related harm.


Pointing to higher rates of alcohol consumption and abuse in provinces like Quebec—where alcohol is more widely available than it is currently in B.C.—Kara Thompson, a research associate with the Centre for Addictions Research BC at the University of Victoria, expects to see alcohol abuse increase in B.C. should the proposed changes come into force.


“The evidence is very clear that when you increase availability, you’ll increase the consumption and experience of harm,” she says.


Thompson says there are not enough alcohol detox services to meet current needs in B.C. She hopes money collected through the proposed “Last Drink Program”, which fines businesses that sell to intoxicated customers, would provide additional funds for detox services.


“I have people in my office that are suffering with these issues and I have no place to send them. I hope that we’ll see some more money being designated to those types of services.”


However, she says that the provincial government’s plan includes positive steps for keeping alcohol consumption in check.


Eighteen of the 73 proposed changes in the B.C. Liquor Policy Review: Final Report are dedicated to health, safety and social responsibility. This includes increasing public education campaigns about the dangers of alcohol abuse, setting minimum prices for alcohol and tying them to alcohol percentage, and increasing police enforcement against underage drinking and drinking and driving.


“This is the first time government is recognizing at all that alcohol is also a health issue, in addition to being an economic-tourism issue,” says Thompson.


“They’ve done a really good job of finding a balance between meeting the public’s demand for increasing mediums [for alcohol purchase] and the public health advocates’ demands of acknowledging alcohol as a health issue.”

DIRECTOR'S CORNER: Vancouver's Olympic legacy of broken promises


Photo by Kris Krug. 


I’m having a hard time watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. While I’m a big fan of amateur sports, the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver left a bad taste in my mouth. Four years on, we can see the benefits pledged to low- and moderate-income people never materialized. It’s hard to celebrate a legacy of broken promises.


When Vancouver bid on the 2010 Winter Games, the bid committee and government partners signed an Inner-City Inclusive Commitment Strategy. The strategy was intended to mitigate the negative effects past Olympics had had on low-income communities and maximize potential opportunities. It was the first of its kind for any Games.


The strategy offered 37 promises, which included making a portion of tickets more affordable, protecting civil liberties and ensuring no one was made homeless or was displaced because of the Games. It also promised to provide an affordable housing legacy.


However, it was clear early on that none of the government partners had any intention of fully seeing theses promises through. While Vancouver was at the start of a real estate boom, and the gentrification of the Downtown Eastside was starting to look like an inevitability, the Olympics opened up the floodgates for developers.


By 2005, many of the low-income Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels in the Downtown Eastside started to get shut down with plans to turn them into student housing or condos. With its upscale restaurants and boutique shops, the Downtown Eastside today barely resembles the inclusive community it once was.


And in 2006, unscrupulous landlords around the city started exploiting the province’s weak Residential Tenancy Act to kick out moderate-income tenants from apartments through unnecessary renovations. It resulted in the coining of the term ‘renovictions’.


Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the Olympic Village. Presented as the flagship of the affordable housing legacy, it was originally supposed to consist of one-third social housing, one-third middle-income housing and one-third market housing. It was then reduced to just 252 units of social housing, or 20 per cent, before being cut again to 126 units.* 


One just has to look at Vancouver’s current real estate prices to see how the city’s affordable housing legacy is doing.


To its credit, the provincial government did buy up a number of SROs in the Downtown Eastside, saving them from conversion, and transforming them into social housing. It also worked out an agreement with the City of Vancouver to take 14 sites and convert them into social housing (so far seven have been built). 


However, the province never came close to its targeted goal. It was supposed to build 3,200 units of social housing before the Games started, but during that time housing advocates claimed 1,300 units had been lost. At the same time, homelessness more than doubled—from 670 in 2002 to 1,600 in 2013, according to homeless counts.


I wish all the athletes well in Sochi, but I hope you’ll excuse me if I can’t get behind the spirit of the Games and celebrate their victories.


*Correction (02/20/2014): The original article said the amount of social housing units at the Olympic Village had been reduced to 252. The correction notes that it was reduced even further to 126 units. 

Out-of-the-Box Housing: Shipping Container Housing Offers Hope

After the media excitement over Vancouver's first shipping container housing died down last fall, the buzz on Atira Women's Resource Management's innovative project went silent. But in Megaphone Issue #148 we open the doors and ask the 12 women living inside--and the women who work with them--what it's like now that they've moved in, unpacked, and called it home.


Also in this issue: a viral video of low-income people subjected to violence for cash is sign of a dangerous attitude towards poverty; a new government/YWCA pilot program aims to prepare foster kids for self-sufficient adulthood; the Sochi Olympics are hard to swallow when we remember the broken promises of a socially responsible Vancouver games; increasing alcohol availability increases consumption, but also government's opportunity to fight alcoholism; and much, much more!


Vendor-to-vendor: Street paper vendors make connections a world away


This year Megaphone has started a sister paper relationship with the street paper in Bergen, Norway, which is called Megafon. As part of the collaboration, we wanted vendors from the two publications to have a chance to talk to each other and share their experiences. We’ll feature interviews between vendors from both papers over the course of this year.


In this first installment, Megaphone’s Peter Thompson interviewed Megafon’s Roger Torvisk. Peter is a 55-year-old Aboriginal man who is formerly homeless. Roger, who is 32 years old, is a heroin user.


Peter Thompson: How did you get involved in selling Megafon?


Roger Torsvik: It was either selling magazines or being a criminal. I want a life after this, and I don’t want to start that life by paying debts. I work every day, and I have sold Megafon since October 2013. I don’t have any other possibilities; I was actually on the street begging for money. I felt unworthy. 


It’s better to sell Megafon than being a criminal. Once I tried to buy a phone with somebody else’s credit card. The police came. I just smiled and said: I guess I’m not very good at this. The police told me I was once of the nicest criminals they’ve met in a while.


Peter: What do you like about selling the magazine?


Roger: Being a vendor actually suits me. I did not know there was a vendor in me. I easily get in touch with people. Some pray for me and although I’m not religious, I do appreciate the gesture. I appreciate being noticed.


Peter: Do a lot of street paper vendors in Bergen struggle with addiction? What other social issues do vendors there face?


Roger: Most of the vendors struggle with addiction, mostly heroin and amphetamines. According to the government, Norway doesn’t have homeless people, but that’s not all true. To get treatment for addiction, it takes time. The drug abuse usually gets worse while waiting. I am waiting for treatment and want to get “clean”.


Peter: Are there good resources for drug users in Bergen?


Roger: There are a lot of low-threshold offers; we can get free clothes, food and a bed to sleep in; medical care to name some. You have to take advantage of these things. Unfortunately, the facilities are located in different places in the city. If you struggle with anxiety it’s not easy to use these offers.


Peter: What goals do you have in life? 


Roger: Being drug-free. That’s my only goal right now. I don’t want to lose myself. I just want to be happy. I have good qualities, which will be helpful in my drug-free life. I believe the best in people and that’s why I get in many tricky situations.


Roger: Did you experience prejudice and stigma as a homeless person?


Peter: Yes, I have had experiences with prejudice when I was on the street. It’s sad to say, but being native is tough: you get the young punks who try to show off by proving they are better than others. But it doesn’t make sense; in reality native people are still here and will always be, so they can’t expect to close their eyes and open them and we will be gone.


Roger: Do you work every day? How is meeting your customers?


Peter: I work six days a week. I have met a lot of customers and, over time, some are real close, like family. Every day or every other day if they have time they will stop and chat. If not, they will wave or say, “Hello, too busy to stop now.” They have become my very good friends. They treat me as I treat them, with respect.


Roger: How do you deal with difficult customers/people?


Peter: I remember this one time, this lady used to walk by and scream at me saying that all Megaphone vendors are crackheads. I listen to Rock 101 on my radio and she said “I hate Rock 101 blah blah blah” and swung a stick at me, so I told her, “That does it, I’m phoning the police.” I took out my phone and pretended I was dialing 911. She got scared and took off, but came back saying, “I’m sorry, please cancel, I won’t bother you.” I told her, “They are on their way.” She took off again and came back two hours later. “What did they say?” she asked. I told her if she continued to bother me they were going to lock her up for a long time. She said, “I won’t, I won’t.” After that she walked without saying a word. As for bad customers, I tell them there are two kinds of people: there are the good ones who like to help people out and then the other kind—I would like those people to keep their opinions to themselves; I leave them alone, I wish the same for me.


Roger: What do you like about selling the magazine?


Peter: I like interacting with the people where I sell. I have my regular customers and then there’s a whole variety that come down to shop—even people from different countries know about street papers. I have great conversations with my customers and I have met a great group of people. This keeps me going every day.


Roger: Do you believe in a happy ending? What makes you happy?


Peter: A happy ending to me is a goal that you set and reach. Also what you do on a day-to-day life, like helping others, who then help someone else when they need it. What makes me happy is the connection I have with people and to see them smile or laugh because you are a part of their world. We are all connected.


Peter Thompson sells Megaphone at Robson and Howe in downtown Vancouver.

Cruel Granville Street Homeless Kicking Is No One-Off: Video of man paying to assault a panhandler fits a disturbing trend in abuse of the marginalized.

‘They think it’s funny,’ said a panhandler of bystanders who watched a Granville Street partier pay $50 to kick him. Screenshot from a video shared on social media.


“I’ll fuck you up,” the man screams at the homeless panhandler as he rears back to kick him in the groin.


Clearly, he wants to hurt him. Badly. After all, he just offered to pay the panhandler $50 for the privilege of doing so.


But as the heavyset man’s leg goes flying, the panhandler flinches and the target is missed.


Dissatisfied, the man retrieves his money from the ground. Another low-income man offers himself up as a victim for the cash reward, and the violence repeats.


The disturbing video of a late night Granville Street partier offering two low-income men money to be assaulted was widely covered by the media and shared on social media last week.


Even though both men volunteered for the abuse, one has an awful feeling watching the video. That’s because the man inflicting the brutal kicks and verbal abuse is exploiting a vulnerable person’s desperation for his own entertainment. Indeed, the second victim told CBC he did it for food money. 


We understand that this kind of violence is cruel, vicious and demeaning, but it’s also a growing trend in our cities. As homelessness has increased in Canada and United States over the past decade, so too has the number of violent attacks against them.


Pushed to the margins of society with few rights or protections, homeless people are increasing finding themselves prey, in particular to the aggressions of young men.


Read the rest

MEGA-NEWS: Vancouver world’s second least-affordable housing market, survey finds

Photo by Tim Shields/flickr


Vancouver again ranks as one of the least affordable cities in the world, this time coming second only to Hong Kong in the 10th annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey released January 20.


The survey examines 85 metropolitan regions with populations of at least one million, in nine different countries. Using a ratio of median income to median housing price, Vancouver’s ratio was 10.3 or “severely unaffordable”.


There are a couple of theories as to why Vancouver out-prices larger cities like London (7.8) and New York City (6.2). Nathanael Lauster, an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, points to development regulations.


Read the rest

MEGA-NEWS: First Nations decry funding cuts to programs preventing child removal


The cancellation of a provincial program supporting Aboriginal child welfare has several B.C. First Nations organizations up in arms.


The Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) announced the cancellation of the Indigenous Approaches (IA) program as of January 31. The program supports 18 First Nations-driven projects aimed at avoiding the need for government intervention in their children’s welfare.


Read the rest

Street Fight: Is the latest plan to address Abbotsford’s homeless crisis destined to fail?


Abbotsford garnered national attention last summer, after city workers dumped truckloads of chicken manure at a homeless camp as a means to drive residents from the site. Allegations also surfaced that city police officers slashed and pepper-sprayed tents and other belongings at other camps. 


Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman publicly apologized for the manure incident. But since then, council has continued to use bylaws and court injunctions to displace homeless camps, citing health and safety concerns.


Now, the issue has reached a boiling point, in the form of a “low barrier” supportive housing project. The first of its kind in Abbotsford for men struggling with drugs or addictions, it has divided the city.


While proponents like Draper describe it as a critical step in the long-term solution to homelessness in Abbotsford, opponents, particularly the local business association, argue the location isn’t suitable. 



Read the rest

Around the Word: Megaphone celebrates International Vendor Week

Megaphone Issue #147 introduces you to Megafon, our Nordic namesake and sister street paper for 2014. We're also marking International Vendor Week, celebrating the over thousands of street paper vendors world wide, and showing how the world's largest social enterprise has grown over the last 20 years.


Also in this issue: Abbotsford City Council faces potential battle with businesses over downtown rezoning for a much-needed low-barrier supportive housing facility; B.C. government cuts funding for projects preventing Aboriginal kids from entering foster care; survey says Vancouver housing almost priciest in the world; vendor Stephen Scott talks about brushes with death and his unfaltering positivity; poetry from our writing workshops; arts listings; and much more!


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