Despite problems, Pidgin protesters vow to continue
Jon Woodward, CTV British Columbia
Published Saturday, April 27, 2013 6:18PM PDT
Last Updated Saturday, April 27, 2013 6:22PM PDT
A reduced-diet hunger strike that has been a fixture of the controversial Pidgin restaurant protests has ended, but protesters say they won't stop gathering outside the trendy Gastown eatery.
About 30 protesters chanted and waved signs outside the restaurant Friday night, denying that the end of the hunger strike -- as well as several tough questions including those raised by a local news website, the Gastown Gazette -- are signs the movement is falling apart.
"We feel it's time the people of Vancouver, and especially the most vulnerable community in Vancouver, the Downtown Eastside, take back the people's control of city hall," said a man who calls himself "Homeless Dave."
"Homeless Dave's" hunger strike has consisted of drinking a cup of Happy Planet juice every day for 36 days. He said he had to stop because of health reasons.
The protest organizers admitted that "Homeless Dave" is not homeless -- he lives in publicly funded BC Housing. He said calling himself "Homeless Dave" was a nickname he earned while homeless, though he would not say for how long or where.
The protesters are calling for more social housing in the Downtown Eastside, and to make the neighbourhood a social justice zone. Their tactics of targetting a small business for some 10 weeks now have drawn a lot of media attention, but also drawn fire from other members of the community.
"You don't even live here, go away, go away! We don't want you!" screamed one passerby at the protesters.
The Vancouver police have issued warnings to protesters for blocking the entrance of Pidgin, which officers said could amount to public mischief. They have threatened to arrest one protester, but told CTV News that protester was in hiding and hasn't been arrested yet.
One organizer, Ivan Drury, quit his job at the Carnegie Community Action Project, which is run from the Carnegie Community Centre. Funders of the CCAP include the Vancouver Foundation, and Vancity Credit Union, who have insisted that their funding be directed to other charitable causes, such as studying homelessness in the area.
"I don't think discussion around Pidgin has been that helpful," said Vancity's manager of community investment, Catherine Ludgate, adding that the credit union funds a variety of initiatives designed to build community in the Downtown Eastside. "It's a very complex issue."
One Carnegie board member came forward to the Gastown Gazette saying he was concerned that community centre money had been spent inappropriately.
"My biggest drawback is that all these protests and all these rallies don't really provide any benefit to the community," said Ludvik Skalicky in an interview later with CTV News. "I'd like to find out about their funding. Who's funding the rallies and the protests?"
Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer said city staff had looked at the Carnegie Centre books and concluded city money hadn't been spent on protests.
Reimer said the best way for residents of the Downtown Eastside to make a difference is to take part in a city planning process that is designed to incorporate viewpoints of low-income people.
"A protest outside a restaurant doesn't have the same impact by virtue that it is not designed to have the same impact," Reimer said.