photos: A new study aims to investigate the health impacts of evictions in the Downtown Eastside. Photo: Jackie Wong.

Eviction-related health impacts under investigation

Getting turfed from your home can impact your health.

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Data on the “devastating health impacts of homelessness” isn’t hard to find, says Ryan McNeil, a postdoctoral fellow with the Urban Health Research Initiative (UHRI), a project of the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. But there’s no reported evidence on the health impacts of evictions, he told Megaphone.

That’s why the UHRI has teamed up with Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users to study potential health impacts of evictions on low-income drug users in the Downtown Eastside.

“Looking at evictions themselves as a specific type of event can lend itself towards doing things like developing programmatic and policy recommendations to actually, hopefully, prevent evictions and lead to more stable housing,” says McNeil.

Although drug use is not technically a reason for eviction allowed under B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Act, Pivot Legal Society housing lawyer DJ Larkin says that hasn’t stopped landlords from doing it.

“When private landlords start to have the ability to pick and choose who can be evicted, it’s our experience at this point and we believe that people who use drugs are targeted first,” she says.

BC Housing’s Crime-Free Addendum, a document commonly added to rental agreements that cites drug-related criminal activity as a viable reason for evicting a tenant, is one way landlords have included drug use as reason for eviction, she adds. According to Larkin, landlords have been using this provision more frequently in recent years.

Getting kicked out of one’s home “obviously would have a devastating affect on people with addictions,” says Larkin, “and to our mind could potentially constitute discrimination on the basis of disability.”

The researchers hope the data gathered from the study can shed light on how the rate and method of evictions have been impacted by neighbourhood gentrification.

The ultimate goal is to make maps showing how people's routines were changed as a result of the eviction, says McNeil. He proposes that eviction- related changes in people’s liveshave wide-ranging health impacts, including where and how they access health services and consume drugs.

The day-to-day changes, he suggests, could shape “a range of different harms from direct drug-related risks like overdoses, to things like violence and exposure to police.”

But evidence is still needed to prove this is happening in the neighbourhood, which Larkin hopes the study will provide.

Inner-city gentrification isn’t theonly possible explanation for rising evictions. BC Housing is moving away from its former social-housing focus to create more supportive housing unitsin the Downtown Eastside, which often require tenants to be drug and alcohol- free. Supportive housing tenants aren’t protected under the Residential Tenancy Act and could be evicted for drug use, too.

With $160,000 in funding from the Vancouver Foundation for a two-year study, the researchers plan to recruit 60 drug users within 60 days of their eviction for the study, with plans to start later this spring.

In addition to a group report on the legalities of the eviction methods identified in the study, Pivot plans to produce a Know Your Rights card for tenants facing evictions.

“As all of the evidence indicates,” Larkin says, “providing housing to people is beneficial to so many other things including quality of life as personally felt by the individual,” as well as stability, home security, and a more stable life.

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