For Immediate Release
July 2, 2020
Unceded Squamish, Museum, and Tsleil-Waututh territories (Vancouver): Residents of Camp K.T. tent city in Strathcona Park call for all three levels of government to prioritize safe permanent housing for all over government sanctioned tent cities, an end to the cycle of displacement through laws and by-laws that criminalize poverty, and repatriation of unceded Indigenous land.
The Indigenous-led encampment at Strathcona Park currently has 140 tents and over 150 residents, appropriately spaced apart and organized around a 24-hour sacred fire in a culturally-safe space. “It’s like a sanctuary. I can come and be at peace with the elders, organizers and people that help this camp,” says Dale, a visitor.
Residents say the camp is a respite from daily debilitating displacement from streets, shelters and doorways. ”The water spirit guided us to the trees. All trees are one-legged creatures and there is an eagle‘s nest there to watch over all of us that stay there and help us grow. This is a new community,” says Eagle Littleboy, Camp KT firekeeper.
Safe housing not state-run camps: responding to provincial “encampment guidelines”
Camp KT residents demand housing for everyone – not just the most visible homeless people living in encampments, as in Oppenheimer Park in 2019 and 2020. Only a fraction of the over 7,500 homeless people in BC were housed through recent provincial safety orders in Vancouver and Victoria.
Many residents have been on BC Housing waitlists for years, with no end in sight. “I got on BC housing list when my daughter was one year old and I got a call when she was 19 years old,” says John, a tent city resident.
Evicting people from tent cities to nowhere, targeting tent cities for stockpiled housing that pushes other people farther down the list, and government-run, state enforced “camps” are not appropriate options – the focus should remain on adequate, permanent housing.
The provincial encampment guidelines presented at a Homelessness Services Association of BC panel on June 24th refer to tent cities as a “complex health problem,” rather than as a fixable social and economic issue of poverty and houselessness. Framing tent cities as a health problem rather than a lack of accessible housing problem invites stigma, pathologization of the poor and more “experts” and specialists, instead of focusing on building permanent housing as the immediate, possible solution to homelessness.
Jason, a resident at CRAB and Strathcona tent cities, said that the result of provincial guidelines will be to set up outdoor “ghettos” rather than help people get off the streets.
From Oppenheimer to Strathcona: Displacement and police violence
Over 100 residents, many Indigenous, were violently displaced from CRAB Park tent city on June 16th. For some, this was the second eviction in two months, following the forced closure of Oppenheimer Park.
A Camp K.T. resident says, “It’s terrible what they did at Oppenheimer: they took people away from their sense of community. One in one out – isolation at its finest. It’s the polar opposite of what we should do for society. Divide and conquer is what I see them try to do. It’s wrong.”
“By raiding a peaceful encampment at dawn with dozens of armed Vancouver Police and no presence from or coordination with housing providers, danger was created, not prevented,” stated Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “Once again, dangerous state sanctioned violence was needlessly perpetrated against poor and homeless Indigenous peoples. This conduct is absolutely deplorable.”
Camp K.T. residents demand an end to forced evictions and the criminalization of poverty and homelessness. Residents say the encampment provides respite from the mental, physical, emotional and psychological toll of moving every single day.
“Having to set up every day is exhausting and time consuming. I work really hard to get ahead – and they come and take it away. We need a place where we can feel secure without the city devastating us on a regular basis. That shouldn’t be acceptable. It hurts so much when they come after us like that. There has to be a place where we can be.” said a CRAB Park resident.
Community and health connections are broken with each move or eviction. “Homeless people are being treated with injustice, indignity and racism, and the repeated displacement is certainly stressful, unhealthy and greatly disrupts connections with the few health and social services that have been established,” says John Millar, former Provincial Health Officer.
A safe, temporary space
The encampment is a safer alternative in the absence of housing, and provides security and community in the midst of a homelessness crisis and health pandemic.
In a 2018 open letter signed by over 100 health professionals, UVIC nursing professors Bernie Pauly and Marilou Gagnon stated, “residents of tent cities have repeatedly claimed that living in tent cities, in the absence of other acceptable options, improves psychological and physical health including community belonging, autonomy and self-determination. We must ensure that tent city residents maintain autonomy and self-determination over their homes and lives while also gaining access to health, social and public safety services.”
Tent cities are a harm reduction response that meet those with lived experience where they are at because they are organized by homeless people themselves. A “sanctioned” tent city predicated on government stakeholder input, ease of enforcement and preconceived, stigmatizing beliefs – like the short lived “COVID camps” in Victoria – perpetuates further displacement and negates resident autonomy and input.
What We Are Fighting For
1. Return the land
The continued displacement of Indigenous people on our own land is a form of colonial violence. Oppenheimer, CRAB Park, and Strathcona park belong to the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh nations, not the city, province, port, or private business. We continue to support the demand for the construction of a healing lodge and long-house in the parking lot of CRAB park coming from Indigenous communities in the DTES.
2. A safe, temporary home
We are not fighting for the right to be homeless but we have nowhere to go and need to survive. While we are at the K.T. tent city we are demanding the City and Parks Board provide some of the basic infrastructure all residents of the city expect: more hand-washing stations, electricity sources, more garbage cans, hot water, and showers.
3. Homes for everyone in BC
We are fighting for homes for everyone in B.C. We demand Federal, Provincial, and municipal governments begin immediate construction on 10,000 units of social housing every year until everyone who wants to be is safely housed.
We demand that units be at least 600sq ft. We demand we are offered options, that the units rent at welfare/pension rates, are operated under the control of residents councils, with kitchens, no guest restrictions, and where people can safely use drugs.
Some of us have been on the BC Housing list for 19 years and we are forced to reapply every 6 months, but it does not guarantee us homes. We demand that BC Housing stop requiring applicants to re-register every 6 months to stay eligible for housing.
4. Stop policing the crisis
There is no need to evict the tent city if we have housing. Some of us living at Strathcona Park have been displaced twice in two months, first from Oppenheimer and then from CRAB park, and all of us are displaced every morning if we are sleeping on the streets. We demand an end to street sweeps and all enforcement of bylaws and criminal code laws that criminalize poverty, homelessness, drug use, and informal and illicit economies like drug dealing and sex work.
5. Healthcare and safe supply for all
We demand a safe, high quality supply of opiates, stimulants, tobacco, alcohol, as well as feminine hygiene products, pregnancy tests and birth control, diapers and baby wipes, and Hormone Replacement Therapy medications available at pharmacies without prescription and without cost. We demand the immediate increase of all government assistance – welfare, pension, disability, EI – to over $2000/mth and the supply of nutritious food to all who need it, COVID-19 testing for all members of vulnerable communities whether or not they have symptoms, and make sure everyone has access to cleaning supplies and sanitary living conditions.