Welfare Caseloads in BC Continue to Rise

February 17th, 2010-->

According to December 2009 data from the provincial Ministry of Housing and Social Development, the number of those receiving income assistance in the Expected to Work category increased by 45.4% between 2008 and 2009.  Close to 12,000 more families and individuals were receiving assistance in December 2009 than in the previous year.  By family type, the biggest increase in income assistance recipients were two parent families (a 69% jump), followed by single men (a 59% increase from 2008 based on annual averages).

The National Council of Welfare has just released a comparison of welfare incomes in 2008 by family type. A lone parent with a child aged 2 received $11,347 from BC income assistance in 2008, and other benefits including the GST credit and Canada Child Tax Benefit bring that figure up to $16,808. This is $5553 less than the low income cut off for that year.  The peak year for welfare earnings for this family type was $18,183 in 1994.

A family with two parents and two children ages 10 and 15 would have received $13,213 from income assistance in 2008 in BC, for a total of $21,016 with other benefits, which is $13,722 below the low income cut off.  This is $2,751 less than the same family would have received in 1994.

A single person considered employable would have received $7,700 including other benefits, which is more than $10,000 less than the low income cut off.  A single person with a disability received $11,382 in 2008. A detailed analysis of the inadequacy of welfare rates is available from SPARC BC.

Photos from the Third Annual Poverty Olympics

February 17th, 2010-->

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Poverty Olympics on February 7!  Here are a couple of photo collections from the event:

Streams of Justice photos

Blackbird’s photos

Media coverage from the third annual Poverty Olympics

February 8th, 2010-->

Poverty activists urge Canada to restart social housing program
People’s Daily Online

Vancouver’s poor protest against Olympic largesse
PM, ABC Australia

Give a home to us not the Olympics, say protesters

Rat, cockroach, flea join ‘Poverty Olympics’
CTV Olympics

Demonstrators put poverty in the spotlight
Metro News

Vancouver’s other Olympic torch

Vancouver Poverty Olympics
Iza (article in Japanese)

Activists stage Poverty Olympics in Downtown Eastside
The Province

2010 Poverty Olympics poke fun at serious issues facing Vancouver
Georgia Straight – Videos and photos

End poverty. It’s not a game: The Poverty Olympics

Poverty Olympics: Beyond the Headlines
Vancouver Media Co-op

2010 “Poverty” Olympics Held in Vancouver
Blogger News Network

Robert Bonner’s speech at the Poverty Olympics

February 8th, 2010-->

Tan-Sai. Hello everyone. Hi everyone. I’m Robert Bonner. I am Cree from Manitoba. I work with the Carnegie Community Action Project. We work to get better housing and incomes in this neighbourhood and to stop gentrification. We are part of Raise the Rates, a BC wide coalition who sponsor our Poverty Olympics.

I would like to acknowledge the Coast Salish People, The Burrard, Musqueam, Gitxsan and Squamish Nations for allowing me to live and do my work on this land. Miiquitch.

I want to welcome you to our DTES. We care a lot about each other here and strive to improve things for all.

I also want to say that this Poverty Olympics is dedicated to the memory of two volunteers from last year’s Poverty Olympians who passed away last year: Bingo and Hal Asham. Our whole community mourns them.

Welcome to the Downtown Eastside where:

  • In the 30s workers of all nations fought for work and wages;
  • In the 60s we stopped a freeway from demolishing our neighbourhood;
  • In the 70s we fought to get a name other than skid road and for a community centre;
  • In the 80s we fought to get a park on the waterfront and started the fight for social housing;
  • And in the 90s we fought for our missing and murdered women and for our safe injection site.

Now we’re fighting for better housing, better incomes and to stop gentrification.

I’m going to take about 3 minutes to tell you why we are having our third annual Poverty Olympics. Canada is a very rich country—rich in land that was stolen from aboriginal people; rich in money and assets. Canadians had almost $5 TRILLON in personal wealth when the last wealth survey was done in 2005.

But you wouldn’t know it to look at our neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside.

  • Our HIV rate is similar to Botswana’s;
  • We have about 700 homeless people, just in the DTES and a couple hundred thousand in Canada;
  • Even though aboriginal people are only 2% of the population of Vancouver, they are 32% of the homeless;
  • Nearly half of all homeless women in the Vancouver area are aboriginal;
  • Our province of British Columbia, which the Premier calls “the best place on earth” has
    • about 12,000 homeless people;
    • the highest poverty rate in Canada;
    • the highest child poverty rate in Canada 6 years in a row;
    • the lowest minimum wage and highest cost of living in Canada.

And here in Canada, this very wealthy country, poverty has about twice the impact as all cancers combined on lost years of life and healthy living!! If you’re poor you have about ten fewer years of healthy living than if you’re rich!

And even though the colonial system has made my people the poorest in Canada, the Canadian government refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Here in the DTES people sleep in doorways, crowd into First United Church to sleep on hard pews and floors; sleep in the crummiest housing in Canada along with bedbugs, cockroaches and rodents. Spending $178 million for a skating oval isn’t very impressive when you’re sleeping in a doorway. That money could build 890 brand new desperately needed apartments. Spending nearly one billion for a highway to open up real estate profits between here and beyond Whistler could build 5000 units of social housing, almost what we need in the DTES.

What do the Olympics mean for us in the Downtown Eastside?

  • Fined for selling stuff on the street so we can make ends meet;
  • Arrested for not being able to pay the fines;
  • Forced by police to go to shelters when we don’t want to go;
  • Evicted by high rents in hotels as developers use the Olympics to speed up the gentrification of the DTES into a condo paradise.

What could the government do if it weren’t spending billions on the Olympics? It could virtually end poverty and homelessness. End poverty. It’s not a Game. That’s what we say.

So… Canadian governments, take note, people around the world are watching you. There is a movement growing here and around the world for justice. You know when regular folks like us start making bedbug costumes and organizing a province wide Poverty Olympics torch relay that something really important is happening! Welcome to the Poverty Olympics. Let the real Olympics, the Poverty Olympics, begin!

Profile of a Poverty Olympics Torchbearer

February 6th, 2010-->

Aylon Cohen is combating his way to the end of his BA in Political Science at the University of British Columbia. He is always glad to have the opportunity to step outside of the cold academic ivory tower and engage with the Downtown Eastside community. He is particularly keen on the The Poverty Olympics, as he believes that the best form of protest occurs in a ‘space’ of satire.

Many thanks to all of our fearless Torchbearers and community organizers who made this journey possible!  Here’s to ending poverty in BC!

Poverty Torch makes incredible kayak journey from Barnet Beach to Deep Cove

February 6th, 2010-->

After Nick’s walk with the toilet plunger torch on Friday, it was passed onto Trish and Emily waiting in the kayak for their paddle to Deep Cove.


While it had been very calm at Barnet Beach, it was wild and choppy in the mouth of Indian Arm and they struggled through the waves and spray, accompanied by loons, herons, cormorants, and a friendly seal. It was exhilerating and fun.


On Saturday, the torch will continue its journey through North and West Vancouver. Sunday morning it will travel over the Lions Gate Bridge and through downtown for the Poverty Olympics!


Torch Relay Visits Coquitlam

February 6th, 2010-->

Jamison Miller started pushing the Torch at the Production Way SkyTrain station on Lougheed. He pushed it all the way uphill to the Sleepy Lodge on Clarke in Coquitlam.

Nick Blomley then took over and started to push just as the rain got heavier. His destination was Barnet Beach, down at the shoreline west of Reed’s Marina. But Nick got the attention of the Port Moody Police Department – “What’s all this, then?” said the constable. On advice of his Sergeant by radio, he ruled the Torch off the road.

Barry and Nick packed it up and drove it to Barnet Beach. With the True Torch out of commission, the backup Torch came into play: the toilet plunger with golden ribbons. Nick carried it proudly aloft for 5 kilometers to the beach. The Torch Relay continued unbroken, still entirely self-powered!




It’s Itchy’s Time to Shine!

February 5th, 2010-->

Bedbug mascots

Earlier, we brought you profiles of two of the Official Poverty Olympics mascots – Chewy the Rat and Creepy the Cockroach.  Now it’s Itchy the Bedbug’s time to shine!

We chose Itchy the bedbug as a Poverty Olympics mascot because he represents what many low income people, especially people who live in residential hotels and rooming houses, have to deal with every day. There is an epidemic of bedbugs in Vancouver. They are extremely hard to get rid of and make life so miserable for people that some refuse to go to their hotel rooms to sleep. Hotels and rooming houses in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community can be poorly run and filthy, and still often cost more than a person on welfare or disability gets for shelter ($375 per month).

But bedbugs don’t only affect low income acommodations – exterminators worry that the Vancouver Olympics will  increase the bedbug problem in this city due to the influx of tourists. The Sydney Olympics of 2000 have been blamed for the current bedbug crisis in many major cities.  The Bedbug Registry is a North American service that allows you to check for reports of bedbugs in your apartment building or hotel.

Due to Itchy’s notoriety for causing discomfort, he is probably the best known Poverty Olympics mascot.  He’s even been profiled on a bedbug extermination website!

Come and meet Itchy at the 3rd annual Poverty Olympics this Sunday, Feb. 7 at 1:00 PM at the Japanese Language School, 487 Alexander St.

Burnaby Torch Relay Update

February 5th, 2010-->

On Thursday the Poverty Olympics Torch made its way from New Westminster to Burnaby.  Here’s an update from the road:

Sarah Bjorknas of Vancouver Catholic Worker House and War Resisters Support dealt with difficult roadways, sidewalks, tree-overhangs, and traffic congestion as she pushed the Torch from New West to Metrotown. But she waved at supportive honkers and at the CTV camera guy who followed us the whole way.Bob and Judy Doll assumed the Torch at Metrotown.  After some negotiations with a Metrotown manager, volunteers were given permission to carry on leafleting and playing Slapshots to End Poverty.  An eagle looked down on all the activity at Metrotown and seemed to approve.


The Burnaby Now ran a story on the torch relay highlighting Burnaby’s shocking rate of poverty – 25.5%, one of the highest in the province.


International Press Release on the Poverty Olympics

February 4th, 2010-->

You’re invited to the 2010 POVERTY OLYMPICS in Vancouver on Feb. 7th, 2010

Pour toutes informations en Francais, contactez Letizia 604 255 5205 (natel 778 899 3210)
Per informazione in italiano, chiamare Letizia 604 255 5205 (telefonino: 778 899 3210)

The Poverty Olympics is a mini-Olympics designed by Canada’s poorest urban community, the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Come to the Poverty Olympics to:

– Learn about desperate poverty in the wealthy country of Canada;
– Meet Poverty Olympic mascots Itchy the Bedbug, Creepy the Cockroach, and Chewy the Rat;
– Talk to residents of Canada’s poorest urban community;
– See the creative, justice-seeking spirit of Vancouver’s low income Downtown Eastside Community;
– Watch the Poverty “Games”: Housing Hurdles, Hockey with the VANOC Predators, the Broken Promise Slalom, and Wrestling for our Community;
– Laugh, have fun, and eat Cockroach Cake. 

Time & Place:
Sun, Feb 7 – Poverty Olympics Torch Relay:Leaves VANDU, 380 E Hastings St. 12:30 pm
Sun, Feb 7 – Opening Ceremonies & Games: at Japanese Hall, 487 Alexander St. 1-3 pm

Media contacts: Wendy Pedersen 604-839-0379
Jean Swanson 604-729-2380