Since displacement, Super InTent City residents now living in the Portland Hotel Society building in Victoria have continued to meet every week, forming a Residents’ Council. The demands outlined below were formed prior to displacement which emphasizes the ways in which our demands were ignored and are not currently being met.
The following are our collective demands for housing:
- We need self-determination and control over our own homes:
- We need to be treated as adults and as any other ‘9-5’er would in their own homes
- The housing needs to fall under the Residential Tenancy Act and our names need to be on the agreement
- Strong tenant councils should govern the operations of all housing facilities so we can meaningfully participate in decision-making about our homes and lives
- There should be in-house job opportunities in all positions so that we can participate in running the buildings
- It is our desire to own and operate our own buildings, run by and for low-income people
- We need affordable housing and not institutional, supportive housing:
- We need to greatly increase the stock of independent, affordable housing at welfare rates
- Punitive, paternalistic, and institutional rules create homes that are not welcoming or safe
- We need to be treated as capable human beings, as ‘normal’ renters, because we are!
- We need permanent homes and not temporary shelters or transition housing:
- We are often offered temporary and transitional housing with bureaucratic processes for getting a bed and securing shelter
- We need to feel secure without risk of eviction
- No policing/surveillance in housing:
- We need to be treated as people and not criminals
- No police involvement in housing
- We need to be given proper notice before our rooms are searched by staff
- Our guests are our friends and family. We need to be able to have guests over without sign-ins, checks, and searches.
- We need processes of accountability for housing service providers:
- We need a process for making independent complaints that will not impact our housing status
- No daily rule changing/arbitrary rules
- No applying rules differently to different people based on favouritism, likes and dislikes, etc.
- We need better and more diverse housing options:
- Like any other group of people we have diverse needs. A one-size-fits-all model of congregate housing doesn’t work for everyone. Some people would like a piece of land to shelter outside, or microhousing, or to be able to live more collectively in a shared house so street families can stay together, or other housing options. Each of us is the expert on what kind of housing will best meet our individual needs.
- We need better options for youth, veterans, and couples
- Elements of good housing:
- Privacy and space
- Proper maintenance of building
- Pets allowed
- Guests allowed (no sign in/checks/searches)
- Couples can sleep together
- Staff should treat people with respect and as equals
- Be able to cook own food/cook in own room
- Workshop space
- Communal space for meetings/swap shop
- Private bathrooms
- Secure individual storage
The Parks Regulation Bylaw permits night time camping in Victoria City Parks from 7pm – 7am (or 8pm – 7am when Daylight Saving Time is in effect). The City of Victoria created this time restriction when it was ruled in 2009 City of Victoria vs. Adams that homeless people have the right to erect shelter when there are no other shelter options available. We arrived on the court house lawn when we found out that this land was Provincial and not subject to the City of Victoria Parks Bylaw. We stayed because we found rest from daily displacement and the physical, emotional and mental exhaustion it causes.
Daily displacement causes harm. Many of us conduct our work at night including panhandling and binning and we don’t get to sleep until 2 or 3am. In city parks, we would wake to Bylaw and Police officers at 7am, telling us to “pack up our shit” and move along. We packed up camp and moved throughout the city with our belongings on our backs and no safe and secure places to store our things. We were immediately socially profiled as homeless and treated as such. We were prevented from accessing services that didn’t allow carts and belongings inside. We used more substances to stay awake during the day because we were sleep deprived and sleep deprivation worsened our health conditions, including mental health. Anti-chattel and anti-panhandling bylaws prevented us from resting in public spaces during the day and we were told daily, in words and actions, that homeless people are not part of this city. There are long term, social costs of displacement.
The City of Victoria announced they were spending more than $600,000/year on policing and bylaw to wake us up and displace us daily. We were often blamed for neighborhood problems when we stayed in city parks. At Topaz Park, for example, the City removed the garbage cans and locked the bathrooms when we arrived, then we were blamed for creating the mess.
We found home, community, safety, and security at Super InTent City. Finally, we could stop moving. Our physical, mental, and emotional health improved. We had a home base where we could keep our belongings and not worry about them being stolen. When you are homeless, all your worldly belongings are on your back including the things you need to survive like ID, medications, and pictures of family members. We could take the time to start accessing other social supports and health services. We had space and time to get to know each other, learn to respect one another, and look after one another. We became the solution to our problems.
The false solutions we’ve been offered
The Provincial government has spent close to 5 million dollars on its efforts to hide and not solve homelessness. This money has been spent on 38 supportive housing units at Mt. Edwards; 40 tents in a gym at “My Place” transitional housing; and 50 indoor/outdoor beds at “Choices,” the former youth jail in View Royal. Despite being clear that we wanted to have ownership and control over our own homes, these contracts were given to service providers that many of us have strained relationships with, where we have been treated badly, and where we have been banned when we sought help.
These solutions are also temporary. “My Place” is set to close at the end of September 2016 and “Choices” is set to close at the end of March 2017. The supportive housing units at Mt. Edwards are longer term, but people have only been guaranteed a year.
Rent supplements have also been proposed to house us. Despite the fact that we have not seen these yet, there are also huge barriers to using rent supplements to house homeless people in Victoria. The vacancy rate in Victoria is 0.6% and in more affordable areas, like Esquimalt, 0.0%. Even with a rent supplement of $300 added to our shelter rate from income assistance $375, that gives us $675. When is the last time you saw a unit for $675 in Victoria? In addition to the lack of housing, we face discrimination when we try to find housing for not having references or having past experiences with homelessness. Also, rent supplements aren’t available for people who have no income, including people who don’t qualify for income assistance due to their restrictive rules.
Many attempts have been made to get the Provincial government at our table. We want to be part of the solution and part of designing and delivering these housing options. We have wisdom to share from our experiences accessing shelters and supportive housing. We are now in the process of creating our own non-profit society to act as a voice for homeless people in Victoria, with a future goal of designing and delivering our own housing.
4 Principles for a Tent Cities Movement
On February 25, 2016, which was supposed to be “eviction day,” the Alliance Against Displacement supported us to host people fighting displacement and tent city evictions from Abbotsford, Maple Ridge, Burnaby and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Emerging from this historic gathering is a four-point declaration of principles for a BC-wide anti-displacement and housing justice movement. This is a working document, but it outlines four central principles that will come to define a new period of struggle against homelessness, one where homeless and displaced people, a great and growing population, refuse to beg for services they deserve as human beings, refuse to be criminalized and institutionalized as the basic fact of their existence, and begin to take the space they need to survive.
- Homes not shelters! We refuse to be hidden away in temporary shelters or scattered with insecure rent subsidies. We need regular, tax-funded, social housing programs to build, every year, ten thousand units of housing available to people at welfare/pension rate in British Columbia. We don’t need service providers to run this housing for us as “supportive,” institutionalized rooms. Our social housing must be run as normal apartments, covered by the Residential Tenancy Act. (For more detail see our Collective Demands for Housing above.) But even social housing is only one part of ending poverty; housing security is impossible without lifting all people out of poverty by guaranteeing a livable income for all, whether by raising welfare and disability rates or implementing a guaranteed income program.
- Support tent cities! Amidst the violence of homelessness, tent cities are relatively safe and secure places for homeless people because they are self-determined community spaces. If we are displaced and scattered, we are unsafe and vulnerable, but together we are strong. Until homelessness is ended through the combined efforts of every level of government, every municipality must treat tent cities as “permanent”, run by tent city resident councils, and left alone to operate on their own terms. Tent city sites must be provided with basic amenities like water and bathrooms, and be close to the downtown of cities, near the services, supports, and communities that tent city residents depend on to survive.
- Smash the new poor laws! End all discriminatory anti-homeless bylaws that legislate limited, night time only hours that homeless people are allowed to set up shelters in public parks. These laws mandate police and security guards to harass and brutalize homeless people and encourage an anti-homeless belief that homeless people are not part of the public. Homeless people are full-fledged members of the public and must be free to enjoy and seek shelter in public spaces as they need it, no matter the time of day.
- Stop the violation of our human rights! It has become ‘normal’ and acceptable to discriminate against people who are homeless and poor. We are harmed by police, bylaw officers, and organizations who are supposed to help us. The housing we are offered does not fall under the Residential Tenancy Act, so the staff have veto and little recourse, and we suffer the consequences (e.g., banning, red zones, etc.). We need a process for making complaints about human rights violations that is transparent and holds people and organizations accountable. This body needs to include people who are homeless to investigate and address these complaints, and publicize widespread violations.