I am extremely disappointed (although not surprised) that our court ordered for over 100 people to be kicked out of Regina Park this week. Displacing people without providing any housing alternatives (giving people access to storage lockers for 30 days and allowing them to camp at night only in other parks are not alternatives to housing) is cruel and inhumane.
Tent cities provide an alternative for people who are unable to find housing, for whatever reason that might be. But ultimately, homelessness is a result of the government’s inability (or lack of willingness) to provide alternatives to market-value housing options, which many people cannot afford (yes, even with a job!). Shelters can be an option, but they are not enough and they often exclude people (couples are unable to stay together, pets cannot be brought in, folks who use substances might not be welcome, etc.).
While many people judge the homeless harshly, it is estimated that about half of British Columbians live paycheck to paycheck, which means many of us are just a few paychecks away from being homeless. Shouldn’t that inspire compassion? Or are people so fearful of being on the street that they would rather distance themselves from people experiencing homelessness by spreading hate?
Tent cities also provide a sense of community. I spent quite some time at Camp Namegans, and it was clear that camp residents supported each other in many different ways. One of the most difficult things about being homeless is that it often leads to isolation and extreme loneliness, things that can have a devastating effect on people’s physical and mental health alike. Tent cities make community care, mutual aid and a sense of belonging possible for people who are otherwise extremely vulnerable.
Ultimately, tent cities reduce many of the risks associated with homelessness by providing uninterrupted shelter, access to basic supplies and emotional support. They also play an important role in harm reduction right now, while we are in the midst of a national overdose crisis. While the surrounding community might see tent cities as inconvenient, they are actually life-saving, especially now.
Shutting down tent cities only displaces the residents further from the agencies they need and from each other, leaving them vulnerable to the many risks associated with homelessness. By failing to take this into consideration, the judge proved that the legal system is ultimately incapable of addressing the needs and rights of, and ultimately protect, homeless people.