Anita Place Tent City residents respond to BC’s Housing Minister Selena Robinson’s announcement of only 40 units of institutional “supportive” housing to be run by the Salvation Army

The BC NDP government’s January 10th announcement for housing in Maple Ridge kicked off the new year on the wrong foot, according to residents of the 9-month old Anita Place Tent City. Homeless residents have been in negotiations with BC Housing representatives since September. The 100 people who use and live in the tent city feel left out in the cold by the BC NDP. This week’s announcement for new housing in Maple Ridge reflects the budgets of the previous government and the priorities of anti-homeless, anti-harm reduction Ridgilantes, not the housing and health needs of homeless people themselves.

The NDP government announcement is for 40 units of supportive housing to be included in a new building for the Salvation Army shelter, which has already been scheduled to move in order to accommodate an expanded highway bypassing Maple Ridge. They spent $3.7million on a plot of land for this building, and will spend approximately another $10million for the construction, falling within the $15million for a new “supportive housing” building promised by the BC Liberals when they closed the Rain City shelter in February 2017. Samantha, a low-income community member and supporter of Anita Place said, “This isn’t a new housing announcement, this is an announcement about Sally Ann’s new building. They planned this before Anita Place even existed; this is not the government responding to the needs of this community.”

The announcement also includes $15million for “affordable housing” for “seniors and families.” This project was also announced by the BC Liberals when they announced the closure of the Rain City shelter in February 2017. Under the BC Liberals, “affordable” housing has come to mean non-subsidized non-market housing that rents far above welfare or pension rates. Al, a resident of Anita Place tent city responded to the language around this announcement: “I know that means it’s not for homeless seniors and it doesn’t include me.”

40 units are not even a quarter of the housing we need

Tracy Scott explained that she felt 40 units are an insult to what she has been fighting for. “40 units doesn’t do anything for us in this camp – it doesn’t even house a quarter of us. No way, this is not the way to end homelessness. There are a hundred people in Anita Place and you offer 40 units? No way.” She said, “We made our needs clear when we met with BC Housing: to end this camp we need 200 units of modular housing opened immediately and 200 units of permanent social housing – not supportive housing.”

Asked by a reporter if she thought this announcement represented a start toward the housing needed, Scott explained that the bitter experience of how the BC Liberals shut down Maple Ridge’s last tent city has taught her not to treat any announcement as a “good first step.”  She said, “The last government promised to buy land and build housing and they didn’t. They left us out here. They housed some of us in houses they rented and then kicked them out in the dead of winter. They claim they housed people but those same people are back on the streets.”

Supportive housing is a failed model

In every meeting with BC Housing and in every statement since Anita Place began, homeless campers have explained and repeated their opposition to the “supportive housing” model developed under the BC Liberal government. Supportive housing is an institutional model of government housing where tenants give up their tenancy rights, privacy, and autonomy in exchange for a roof over their heads. Anita Place tent city calls for social housing where rents are fixed and affordable by even the most low-income people, and residents direct the policies and operations of their building, like they have at their camp.

David Cudmore, a resident of Anita Place, explained, “The problem with supportive housing is that you’re locked in, staff controls your guests, cameras watch you 24/7 and send surveillance to the police. We’re old enough, mature enough to care for ourselves. It’s the rent we’re looking for, not babysitters in supportive housing. It’s not going to work for us.” Cudmore said, “The message from supportive housing is that there’s something wrong with us—that’s why we need social housing. There’s nothing wrong with us; there’s something wrong with the society that makes us poor and homeless.”

Salvation Army management means more overdose deaths

Opposing supportive housing does not mean opposing support for people in crisis. Over nine months, there have been no deaths at Anita Place tent city and far fewer overdoses than are typical in shelters and other more institutional spaces. Anita Place is testament to the expertise of homeless people and low-income drug users in directing and carrying out their own health care and harm reduction. The NDP announcement of the Salvation Army as housing operator grovels to pressure from anti-harm reduction, poor bashing Ridgeilante bigots, rather than the health needs of low-income drug users.

Brett, a resident of Anita Place and IV drug user explained, “It’s a major failure for the people to have Salvation Army as the operator for our housing. After the Rain City shelter closed last year, the government gave the harm reduction contract to Salvation Army and they capped the number of needles you can take – it put me at risk. I was re-using needles and when I was with my friends we couldn’t keep track of who used which needles. Their staff is not trained to deal with harm reduction supplies or Narcan; they don’t know how to use them. Salvation Army doesn’t understand harm reduction and they should not be running services in this community.”

Tent cities will continue to grow

Ivan Drury, an organizer with Alliance Against Displacement, which has supported Anita Place since it started, explained that the spirit of this 40-unit housing announcement means tent cities will continue to grow. “This announcement is not a step towards something different from the BC Liberal legacy,” Drury explained. “This announcement means that the NDP government is continuing the BC Liberal’s housing policy of public relation spins that re-announce previous announcements to make it seem like they are doing something without spending the money needed to actually end homelessness.”

Tent city residents said they remain determined to fight for housing for everyone who is homeless. Brett explained, “We’re fighting for housing for everybody who needs it. I won’t watch my friends fall through the cracks while I get housing; everyone’s life has equal value. If I get picked for one of these 40 units while my brother has to stay on the streets, I won’t go.” And Dwayne Martin, a resident of Anita Place and of the Rain City shelter before it, said, “The government wants to separate us, to house just some of us, to break our community, but we won’t go. We’ll stay at Anita Place and we’ll keep fighting.”