Streams of Justice flowing for 10 years
by Christina Van Starkenburg
If you drive past 950 Main St. in the City of Vancouver, you will notice the Ten Year Tent City that sits on a site chosen for social housing. As the name suggests, this is not the first time there has been a tent city on this site. Ten years ago, Streams of Justice organized a tent city there as one of its first acts.
“Ten years ago in the fall of 2007, we occupied a piece of city-owned property that was designated, and has been designated, by the city for social housing,” says Dave Diewert, the organizer and one of the original members of Streams. “We occupied it because homelessness was on the increase, our shelters were inadequate and we wanted to draw attention to this burgeoning homeless crisis.”
They did draw attention to it. Diewert remembers being excited and feeling hopeful when United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari stopped by the site. However, despite Kothari’s negative report on homelessness in Canada, not much has changed today. Homelessness is still on the rise in Vancouver, and the city has the highest homeless rate in the region.
Streams of Justice is a Christian social justice group. Its members try to live as Jesus lived: as people who care for and stand in solidarity with those who are overlooked or oppressed. They strive to not simply help people where they are, but to learn about the roots of the problem and educate others on how the issues can be fixed from there. One of the ways Streams does this is through researching social justice issues, like homelessness and poverty, and holding roundtable discussions that explore and unpack them. “I think the first thing is to recognize that we need change, not just small reform, but substantial, systemic change to bring about a world that is based on and founded on justice,” shares Diewert.
Diewert fears Christians often fall short on helping the poor because we tend to think it means only volunteering at a foodbank, donating clothes to a women’s shelter, or putting extra money in the collection plate.
“In the face of a lot of issues of poverty, let’s say homelessness and other social issues, often the faith community has responded with charity. And we’re critical of that, if that’s all that is going on,” says Diewert. “I think that the church and faith community is slow in responding, because they’re afraid of engaging politically.”
Diewert hopes there will be more engagement in the Christian community, and a willingness to conduct critical and systemic analyses around these issues and their root causes.