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downtown eastside

A Vancouver man has announced that he has begun a hunger strike to protest gentrification in the city's Downtown Eastside – and says he won't stop until his demands are met.

It's the latest in a string of protests by those opposed to gentrification in one of Vancouver's most rapidly changing neighbourhoods.

The man, who goes by the name "The artist formerly known as Homeless Dave," is demanding that the City of Vancouver deny a condominium developer a permit to build at 138 E. Hastings St.; that the former police station on Main Street be turned into social housing; and that the Downtown Eastside be declared a "social justice zone."

"We're not about smashing windows. We're about smashing the old broken paradigms and building new paradigms that are more just and equal," he said Friday afternoon to a group of activists and reporters in front of the condominium site. "We want this [138 Hastings] to be 100-per-cent social housing and a health and wellness centre."

The man gave few details about his background other than he was once homeless, he is 51 years old (in fact, his birthday was on Friday, he said) and he is a Type 2 diabetic.

He plans on drinking sage tea and juice during the hunger strike, he said.

The hunger striker plans to picket the condo site from noon to 1 p.m. Monday to Friday. He will also picket at Pidgin, a trendy eatery, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. A spokesperson said that outside of those hours he will be at other locations engaging in various activities, including meditation, but will not be available to the media.

At Friday's announcement the hunger striker also took direct aim at Pidgin, which opened this year on Carrall Street and has been the site of frequent dinner-hour protests.

"The reason why it [Pidgin] is offensive is that it's a new type of colonization. We know what's behind you: a whole lot more condos and a whole lot more development," he said.

This week it was reported that an anarchist group had claimed responsibility for stealing a sign belonging to Save-On-Meats, a popular eatery on Hastings Street. On a website, the group called the sign a "prominent piece of gentrification propaganda."

Protests against gentrification have not been limited to the Downtown Eastside. Last week, a group called the Anti Gentrification Front took responsibility for smashing several windows at Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria on Commercial Drive. This was the third time the pizzeria had been vandalized in less than a year.

Tami Starlight, one of the hunger striker's spokespersons, said the hunger striker and his supporters are not connected to the recent attacks on businesses.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, representing the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, came to the announcement on Friday to show his support for the hunger striker.

"It really represents a sad commentary on the unwillingness [of the city] to engage the Downtown Eastside residents in a meaningful and effective fashion," he said. "It should never come to this."