By Wanda Stopa
Originally published in The Volcano
My name is Wanda and I live in Surrey on the strip (135A Street). I’ve been on the strip for 2 years now. I lost my home over two years ago, and it’s been a struggle.
Everybody has their own reasons for being here, everybody has their own issues. I don’t know them all, I can only speak for myself. City bylaw officers came to the home I was living in; it was being run by a scumlord and they closed the house down because it wasn’t up to code. Ever since then it has been a battle to find a home. There are no places that are affordable out here in Surrey. Anything that’s within my budget is so disgusting; I won’t live in a cockroach infested place. And I won’t leave Surrey because this is where all my friends and family are; and I grew up here and I don’t feel comfortable leaving.
The City enforces the Abbotsford ruling here on the strip; we can put up tents from 7:00 at night until 9:00 in the morning. The ruling says we can set up in public parks, but the closest park here is the skateboard park and they don’t want us there, so we set up along the sidewalks where the services are. But we have to take down in the morning, and if you don’t the city is going to come and take your stuff. I’ve watched so many things being taken by the city … they don’t give a shit; they are heartless. If you leave your stuff, everything will be gone when you get back. Well, this is all I have left in my life; it’s right here in this pile. They tell you to downsize, but how can you downsize what little you have left.
So every day I have to move this stuff. Sometimes I’m moving all day long; two or three times a day I’m moving it. Cops will just chase me from spot to spot. Packing up your shit every day is hard. My body can’t take much more I don’t think, and my mind, mentally I can’t take much more of it. It’s been over two years now and I’ve had one mini stroke because of it, and the stress you have to go through every day is unbearable.
The most recent tent city was a few weeks ago, but it only lasted the weekend. We had 20-25 tents up, and there were at least 2 people or more per tent. We still had to flatten the tents every day; we couldn’t leave them up like other tent cities. On the third day they told us to get off the property or we’ll get arrested. Not many people want to get arrested, not many people want to lose their belongings so I mean it’s hard.
Our tent city was perfect. Everybody wasn’t spread out on the street, we were all in one area. There was no garbage, it stayed clean for a whole weekend. And people’s lives were being saved left, right and centre, because people knew exactly where to go when people were ODing. Everybody started working together.
I’m going to try to do it again but I haven’t figured out where. If we had a tent city, we could look after each other. I already know what we got to do but it’s just getting that piece of land or property to do it on but they won’t give it to us. We proved we could do it and then some, but they didn’t like that. “We’re not going to let them organize like that.” Poor people organizing frightened the shit out of them, so they shut it down, and threatened to throw out our stuff.
I’m proud to say that these people down here are my family and friends. Two years of being down here and I have friends that I care about, who want to fight for our rights. We are people, we’re not garbage like they think we are. We are human beings who have feelings. There are lots of feelings down here for everybody. I have known people before I ended up down here, and some people I’ve just met, but I still call them family and friends.