On October 27 we wrote about a grassroots shower initiative started by people fed up with governments’ continued failure to make sure that people sheltering outside have access to showers close to where they’re living. Raising their own money and doing their own construction, on Saturday November 7 the two community-built showers were taken to MEEGAN for installation. But when they got there, the builders found that the City had turned off the water to make sure that the showers didn’t get connected.
The crew who built the showers have asked that we share their open letter, sent Sunday November 8.
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An open letter to Victoria Mayor and Council
The City of Victoria has failed to provide basic hygiene facilities to the unhoused community living at MEEGAN (Beacon Hill Park).
We, as concerned citizens, aware of how people have been displaced from shelters and essential facilities, have fundraised to build showers in response to repeated calls from the unhoused community since the pandemic began. The City told us that the structures alone were not the problem, but that because we were not providing “wrap around services” the showers are unsafe.
The City has demonstrated, through their various failed attempts to facilitate access to showers for the unhoused, that they are not willing to provide showers or provide wrap around services either. The showers we have created will be run by peer to peer maintenance and safety program from within the community itself, something that has been explained to Derrick Newman, assistant director of facilities and construction management.
We take issue with the City and Bylaw defining what is safe and what is not for folks living in the park. The City’s approach toward the unhoused community has been to enforce wave after wave of displacement, destroyed people’s belongings, and persistent harassment (see statements from Legal Observers Victoria). The action and inaction by City and Bylaw are putting unhoused folks’ lives at risk and, as concerned citizens, we must uphold human rights in the face of the City trampling on them.
This morning, when we installed the two shower stalls we built, we found that the City had shut off the water at MEEGAN, no longer providing access to hand washing, clean water, or water for the shower to be run. This is a violation of international human rights law that affirm homeless camps have the right to running clean water and hygiene facilities.The city claims that there are jurisdictional hurdles for providing showers. If there are bylaws and policies that are being enforced by the city which are putting people’s lives at risk, then it’s the responsibility of the city to change or alter those bylaws and policies in order to abide by the international human rights laws which are outlined here by the UN Protocol on Homeless Encampments:
UN National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada
PRINCIPLE 6: Ensure encampments meet basic needs of residents consistent with human rights
“Homeless encampments must be provided with sufficient resources and supports to ensure access to hygiene and sanitation facilities – toilets, showers, hand-washing stations, for example – within the encampment, or within very close proximity. Using existing facilities that remain open to the general public will not be appropriate. Facilities should ensure the hygiene and dignity of all residents irrespective of needs or identity. Peer-led hygiene and sanitation facilities have worked well in some contexts… The denial of access to water and sanitation by governments constitutes cruel and inhumane treatment, and is prohibited under international human rights law.”
As you may be aware, shower facilities at Our Place are not adequate for the folks living at MEEGAN. There are people living at the park who suffer from mobility issues, old age, terminal illness, and even for the average person, travelling across town to shower in the winter is arduous and unsafe. People are going to die this winter because of the City and Bylaw’s attempts to stomp down community mutual-aid, which, I should remind you, is us doing your job for you.
As concerned citizens, acting in solidarity with the unhoused community, we demand the following:
- Running water for hand washing, clean water for drinking, and showers to be turned back on immediately
- All people currently unhoused, seeking housing, are provided shelter immediately
- Proper hygiene facilities be installed at MEEGAN in accordance to the UN Protocol on Homeless Encampments and International Human Rights Law
Your community is watching you.